If you keep up with OSHA news, you’ve probably noticed that most of the really high dollar fines are levied against private employers. However, being a public agency – even a federally funded one – is no protection against an OSHA inspection. In May, OSHA issued a news release that revealed the extent of safety and health violations in an organization where employers really should know better: the VA healthcare system.
Scandal has been dogging VA hospitals for the last few years since failure to follow proper hygiene practices at several locations led to a massive public relations disaster. More than 13,000 veterans were notified of possible exposure to bloodborne pathogens including HIV and Hepatitis between 2009-2011. Now, four more VA medical facilities in California have been found wanting by OSHA. The agency issued 30 notices for “unsafe and unhealthful working conditions”. Some of the most troubling violations included:
- Exposure to contaminated needles
- Repeated violation of biowaste storage procedures
- Multiple electrical hazards
- Blocked emergency exits
VA Shortcomings Include Communication Failures
The hospitals were also put on notice for having an incomplete written hazard communication program. That’s a problem that many public agencies have. It’s often easy to assume that your safety program is up to date simply because you are a public firm. Surely someone, somewhere is taking responsibility for ensuring your organization is compliant with OSHA mandates?
Not necessarily. Perhaps you do have an individual at your firm with the title “safety officer”. However, this employee may have many other responsibilities as well, especially in small to mid-sized companies. Unless your whole organization is proactively involved with ensuring compliance, it will slip through the cracks. Everyone from executives and managers down to entry level employees must play their own role in keeping the workplace safe – and that means you need a written program that is accessible to everyone.
Are You at Risk?
While OSHA can’t assess monetary penalties against other federal entities, state and local public organizations have no such protection. Public employers are also not exempt from potential criminal prosecution if they are found negligent in preventing workplace fatalities. The best way to protect your organization from violation notices, citations, and fines is by taking steps to update, communicate, and enforce your company’s safety policies and programs. If you haven’t scheduled a consultation to review your level of OSHA compliance in the last 12 months, do it now!