Since July of this year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has significantly increased COVID-19-related enforcement activities, levying fines against 112 establishments within the New York metropolitan area. The fines and penalties imposed by OSHA between mid-July and mid-October 2020 amount to just over $1.6 million.
Action Against OSHA
This latest regulatory sweep comes on the heels of claims, levied earlier this year by U.S. labor giant AFL-CIO, that the watchdog agency had done too little to protect American workers from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, the AFL-CIO filed a petition in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to force OSHA to implement and enforce stronger protection for U.S. workers against the coronavirus, just as states were beginning to re-open for the summer months. The petition alleged that, nationwide, workers had been exposed to the coronavirus without adequate health and safety measures. The complaints included lack of workable guidelines for respiratory health and the use of personal protective gear, along with lack of accurate reporting of COVID-19-related illnesses and fatalities. Since then, OSHA has drastically stepped up enforcement action.
Targeting Health Care Businesses
Notably, most of OSHA’s targets in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have been health and medical-related businesses. Nationally, more workers are injured in the healthcare and social assistance industry sector than any other, with 582,800 accident or injury cases in 2017. To put this in perspective, that number constitutes 153,900 more accident or injury cases than the manufacturing sector. With health and medical facilities squarely within OSHA’s sights, the larger health systems have not been spared. The Hackensack Meridian Health System was cited by OSHA for violations which resulted in total penalties of $143,735, with one of their nursing homes hit with the largest single penalty, $28,070, based upon five separate safety issues. OSHA also conducted 26 such inspections in New York, resulting in $374,564 in penalties. Similarly, businesses in Connecticut were fined $100,126, based on seven OSHA inspections, while five inspections in Massachusetts yielded $83,854 in OSHA fines.
Already overburdened with a surge in coronavirus cases, including increased hospitalizations, health care entities in the tri-state area will have to step up their infection control compliance programs, in the event that OSHA pays an unannounced visit to their facility. The penalties associated with non-compliance with OSHA standards could easily dwarf the cost of compliance with such standards. As such, it would be prudent for healthcare businesses to verify their compliance with these standards.
Mandelbaum Salsburg’s Health Practice Group and Employment Practice Group have experience in assisting healthcare businesses in achieving compliance with OSHA’s standards and defending against enforcement actions by OSHA. For more information on our services, please feel free to contact us.