Historically, OSHA has been stable in their physician regulations, but the COVID era altered that equation. OSHA had been relatively quiet through the pandemic, letting the CDC do most of the heavy lifting, but since practices opened back up in May 2020 there has been a steady increase in the number of OSHA complaints, especially in healthcare settings.
To refresh everybody’s memories: when OSHA receives a complaint, they are mandated to initiate an investigation. This initiation happens in one of two ways – either a business receives a letter from OSHA or the business where the complaint originated may receive an unannounced visit from an OSHA Inspector, now referred to as a Compliance Safety and Health Officer.
By October 2020, we started to receive an influx of calls from clients indicating that they had received some kind of communication from OSHA. Most clients received letters, but there were a few situations where a Compliance Safety and Health Officer came knocking. In these particular situations, it is difficult to know what may have prompted a physical visit over just a written correspondence, but both situations can be unsettling.
The healthcare industry has always required safeguards that have become commonplace across all industries during the pandemic like proper of use of PPE, proper handwashing, surface disinfecting and internal engineering controls to mitigate the spread of infection. The pandemic required employers to step up their efforts to not only safeguard their employees, but their patients as well. Social distancing was included along with alternative patient flow, and required temperature checks. Common areas were now incorporated into the daily disinfecting routine. During these early days of the pandemic, we advised groups on these new changes to ensure that they were meeting both State and Federal guidance. These changes required time and communication, but practices adjusted and got back on their feet.
We are happy to report that in all cases where our clients had to deal with OSHA, there were no issues and all complaints were closed with no further mitigation. But that was not the case across the industry. There have been roughly $6 million dollars in fine and penalties in the healthcare industry alone. So, remain steadfast in your daily efforts to stop the spread of COVID and keep up your communications with staff and patients, because all it takes is one call to be on the receiving end of a Federal or State agency.