James S. Frank, a Member in the Health Care and Life Sciences and Labor and Employment practices, and Serra J. Schlanger, an Associate in the Health Care and Life Sciences practice, co-authored an article for the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA) entitled “Hospitals’ Heavy Lifting:  Understanding OSHA’s New Hospital Worker and Patient Safety Guidance.”

The article, published in AHLA’s Spring 2014 Labor & Employment publication, summarizes OSHA’s new web-based “Worker Safety in Hospitals” guidance, explains how the guidance relates to OSHA’s existing regulatory framework, and details what OSHA considers necessary for an effective Safe Patient Handling Systems as well as an effective Safety and Health Management System.

The article goes on to forecast what OSHA’s Hospital Safety guidance will mean in the future for employers in the healthcare industry, including:

  1. More Whistleblower Complaints;
  2. Heavier enforcement by OSHA;
  3. Increased enforcement by the Joint Commission; and
  4. Greater interest in safety and health related legislation.


Finally, the article provides recommendations for what hospital and health system employers can do now to prepare for these developments, including:

  1. Reviewing and digesting the new OSHA hospital patient and employee safety resource;
  2. Work with employees and/or contractors to improve Safe Patient Handling Programs and/or a Safety and Health Management Systems; and
  3. Prepare for more safety-related whistleblower complaints by setting up effective processes to quickly investigate and address complaints and employee injuries and illnesses.


Below are some excerpts from the article:

On January 15, 2014 the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a new online resource to address both worker and patient safety in hospitals.

According to OSHA, a hospital is one of the most dangerous places to work, as employees can face numerous serious hazards from lifting and moving patients, to exposure to chemical hazards and infectious diseases, to potential slips, trips, falls, and potential violence by patients—all in a dynamic and ever-changing environment. . . .

The OSHA web resource is intended to help hospitals identify their safety needs, implement safety and health management systems, and enhance safe patient handling programs. Because nearly half of hospital workers’ injuries are ergonomics related (i.e., lifting, bending, reaching, or slipping),and sprains and strains cause more than half of the reported injuries, most of OSHA’s hospital web guidance focuses on developing safe patient handling programs. . . .
Although OSHA’s new hospital guidance appears on its face to just be a resource for hospitals regarding the integration of patient and worker safety programs, it is actually a sign that hospital worker safety will become a major enforcement priority for OSHA and unions. . . .
In addition to preparing for an increased number of complaints, hospitals should prepare for additional enforcement by OSHA. The materials related to the integration of patient and worker safety programs include significant information about the hazards hospital workers face and how hospital employers can address these hazards. When investigating complaints or incidents, OSHA will use this web guidance to argue that a hospital had knowledge of the hazards its employees faced and had knowledge of measures it could have taken to control such hazards. . . .

Copyright 2014, American Health Lawyers Association, Washington, DC. Reprint permission granted.

Here is a link to the full article.