OSHA Fines are Down, But Not for Long

David LaHoda , November 18, 2009

Total OSHA fines and inspections decreased across all types of healthcare facilities in FY 2009.

Medical and dental practices and hospitals saw the greatest decreases in fines, 30%-40% from the previous year, according to OSHA's Statistics and Data Web page. Nursing care facilities and laboratories showed less dramatic decreases at 12%-14%.

Nursing facilities ($321,327) and hospital settings ($196,400) ranked first and second respectively in total fines by type of facility, accounting for nearly three-quarters of OSHA fines issued in healthcare. Next came medical ($52,214) and dental ($47,549) practices at approximately 7% each of total OSHA healthcare fines.

Even though this is the second straight year healthcare violations have seen a decline, the trend is not likely to continue. OSHA under President Obama has an increased budget, including 130 new inspectors, according to remarks made earlier this summer by acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jordan Barab to the American Society of Safety Engineers. "The law says that employers are responsible for workplace safety and health, and there's a new sheriff in town to enforce the law," said Barab.

In addition to more enforcers, there is also better ammunition. OSHA officially posted its revised field operations manual (FOM) last week and the consensus of opinion among safety professionals is that the FOM gives inspectors more latitude in issuing violations, especially in the areas of defining recognizable hazards with regard to the general duty clause, focusing on hazard assessments, and providing more guidance on issuing willful violations.

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