By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On September 14, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a citation against a healthcare system in Louisiana. Christus Shreveport-Bossier Health System is facing fines for failing to safeguard its employees with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic. OSHA has proposed $13,494 in penalties, the maximum allowed by law.
OSHA’s Coronavirus-related Investigation.
After receiving reports of employee exposure, OSHA opened a coronavirus–related investigation. The agency found that the health system violated workplace safety protocols and put employees at risk of COVID-19 exposure.
In a press release, OSHA stated, “emergency facility employees often shared used protective gowns or did not have protective gowns to wear while treating patients.” Click here to read the press release in full.
Christus Health had 15 business days from receipt of the citation and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings. In a statement, Katy Kiser, a spokesperson for Christus Health, said, “We are actively contesting the citation and the penalty. We have worked hard to secure the PPE we have needed to get us through many phases of the pandemic and maintain a local contingency supply of at least ten days. To date, we have experienced no gaps in PPE supply during pandemic response.”
A Series of COVID-19 Citations for Different Health Systems.
After receiving criticism that it was not adequately investigating COVID-19 complaints, OSHA announced it would ramp up enforcement. As a result, the agency said it would also issue fines against New Jersey-based Bergen New Bridge Medical Center and Hackensack Meridian Health. The two healthcare systems were cited for failing to provide appropriately fit respirator masks to its home healthcare employees. Additionally, after providing respirators, they didn’t provide adequate training and compliant medical evaluations.
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Health Providers Can and Should File Complaints with OSHA.
What these cases show is that health professionals whose employers fail to provide proper safety equipment, PPE, and other job-related protections, can file OSHA complaints. OSHA’s main purpose for existing is to protect employees from unsafe working environments. Although the fines OSHA assesses may be small, if the employer is fined, this may provide the basis for a workers compensation claim, a lawsuit, a union complaint, or all of three of these.
Furthermore, if the employer retaliates against the employee for filing an OSHA complaint, then the employee has a valid cause of action against the employer, regardless of any other rights, under OSHA’s “whistleblower protection” provisions.
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Campbell, Braden. “OSHA Ramps Up Physical Inspections, COVID Case Reporting.” Law360. (May 19, 2020). Web.
Kutner, Max. “OSHA Fines La. Health System Over COVID-19 Violations.” (September 14, 2020). Web.
Shinkman, Ron. “OSHA fines 3 hospital systems for PPE violations.” Healthcare Dive. (September 15, 2020). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.
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