Federal workplace safety inspectors are ramping up enforcement efforts at health-care facilities during the Covid-19 pandemic, data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows.
Deaths and multiple hospitalizations of health-care workers due to the coronavirus have prompted OSHA to begin at least 70 inspections from March 15 through April 23. OSHA opened another 15 health-care inspections based on worker complaints or other reports.
The inspections are in line with an OSHA directive April 13 that placed high priority on coronavirus-related inspections at medical facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.
“What we’re seeing is a massive uptick in health-care inspections with fatality or catastrophe classifications,” said industry-side attorney Karen Tynan, of counsel in Ogletree Deakins P.C.’s Sacramento, Calif., office.
During the same period in 2019, OSHA opened four fatality or catastrophe-related inspections of health-care employers, agency inspection data shows.
43 Inspections in N.J., N.Y.
OSHA enforcement data showed New Jersey accounted for 27 of the inspections while there are 16 ongoing inspections in New York state.
Other states with multiple inspections include Illinois with 12; Florida with six; Texas with four; Alabama, Indiana, and Missouri with three each; and Ohio with two. States with one inspection were Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.
The federal inspection numbers don’t include cases where OSHA hasn’t dispatched inspectors and is instead responding to complaints through telephone calls and written communications.
As of April 23, OSHA had received 2,609 coronavirus-related complaints, an agency spokeswoman said.
The OSHA numbers also don’t include states with their own workplace safety agencies that conduct inspections of privately owned hospitals and other health-care providers. States initiated 73 inspections of health-care employers, with 17 prompted by fatalities or hospitalizations.
The inspections are welcomed by worker advocates who’ve complained to OSHA about shortages of personal protective equipment and employers not following procedures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Debbie White, a nurse and president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, said that within 48 hours of the union filing a complaint with OSHA about PPE issues at a New Jersey hospital, the inspection was underway.
The complaint alleged a host of problems such as ill-fitting respirators that didn’t seem to meet federal standards for N95 respirators and no initial fit tests for workers who previously didn’t need to wear the face coverings.
“You don’t have a seal, you don’t have a fit, you don’t have protection,” White said.
White recommended that anyone who complains to OSHA should document the issues for the agency by including incident reports and worker statements.
From the employer side, Tynan said businesses also need to document their efforts to comply with OSHA rules and guidance.
While federal OSHA doesn’t have a rule specifically for the coronavirus, the agency does have requirements for PPE and training. And OSHA could use its general duty clause to cite employers who don’t mitigate known hazards.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health does have a rule for protecting workers from airborne transmissible diseases like Covid-19, Tynan said.
Meatpacking, Retail Inspections
The agency has also opened inspections at meatpacking plants with coronavirus infections. Since March 15, OSHA has initiated 10 inspections of the food processing facilities.
Five of the inspections are at plants with publicized virus outbreaks—Smithfield Foods Inc. in Kansas City, Mo.; National Beef Packing Co. in Liberal, Kan.;
Largely free of inspections are retail stores—physical and on the internet. The only virus-related fatality OSHA listed in enforcement data are a pair of investigations at a