OSHA Reaches Landmark Settlement With Nursing Care Center On Safe Patient Handling

OSHA has landed a significant agreement with an Ohio nursing care facility that stipulates new policies and procedures for safe lifting and repositioning of residents — a step forward in the agency’s efforts to tackle the growing issue of ergonomics in health care through enforcement and negotiation with employers instead of rulemaking.

Hiring a safety consultant well-versed in ergonomics is central to the settlement with Twin Towers, a provider of skilled nursing care services in Cincinnati. The stipulation comes as OSHA implements a wide-ranging health care enforcement program partly aimed at pressing hospitals and residential care centers to pay greater attention to musculoskeletal injuries.

Twin Towers’ settlement with OSHA includes retaining a specialized safety consultant with ergonomics expertise to recommend improvements to its resident handling program. Anticipated changes include minimal lifting by caregivers; using safe handling technologies, such as mechanical lifts; repositioning aids; and training for workers, OSHA said in a recent statement. Twin Towers is a nonprofit corporation operating under Life Enriching Communities, and employs about 300 workers.

The company will report to OSHA on improvements to its program within six months and must pay a penalty of $18,200 to resolve OSHA citations issued in June. OSHA cited a high rate of musculoskeletal injuries for caregivers based on a review of injury and illness logs after conducting an inspection. OSHA says the company “cooperated fully” with the investigation.

An official with the corporate office of Life Enriching Communities could not be reached before press time. The corporation also operates Twin Lakes, a senior living community in Montgomery.

The settlement agreement between OSHA and Twin Towers calls for a review of Twin Lakes’ policies and procedures for resident handling.

OSHA brings the broader ergonomics issue to the forefront in touting the settlement, saying work-related musculoskeletal disorders are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time. The agency cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2013 showing that overexertion accounted for almost half of all reported injuries in the health care industry. Nurses and nursing assistants each accounted for a “substantial share” of this total, OSHA said, adding that among all occupations, orderlies, nursing assistants and personal care aides had some of the highest musculoskeletal disorder rates in 2013.

Nursing facilities have among the highest rates of serious work-related injuries and musculoskeletal disorders, including those of the neck, upper extremities and lower back, which account for a significant portion of those injuries, OSHA noted.

“Musculoskeletal disorders are preventable,” said Ken Montgomery, OSHA area director in Cincinnati. “An effective, safe resident handling program will reduce muscle fatigue, increase productivity and reduce the number and severity of work-related injuries.”

“Twin Towers recognizes the need to make changes to its resident handling procedures to prevent injury to workers while continuing to preserve the dignity of patients with limited mobility,” he added. — Christopher Cole (ccole@iwpnews.com)