Managing Your Practice

Don’t forget about OSHA



Given the bewildering array of new bureaucracies that private practices have been forced to contend with in recent years, it’s easy to forget about the older ones – especially OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

Now would be a good time – before the new year begins, and you’re forced to take on the MACRA meshugas, which I’ll discuss next month – to get out your OSHA logs, walk through your office, and confirm that you remain in compliance with all the applicable regulations. Even if you hold regular safety meetings (which all too often is not the case), the occasional comprehensive review is always a good idea, and could save you a bundle in fines.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern

I’m always amazed at how many offices lack an official OSHA poster, enumerating employee rights and explaining how to file complaints; it’s the first thing an OSHA inspector looks for. You can download one from OSHA’s website, or order it at no charge by calling 800-321-OSHA.

Next, check out your building’s exits. Everyone must be able to evacuate your office quickly in case of fire or other emergencies. At minimum, you (or the owner of the building) are expected to establish exit routes to accommodate all employees and to post easily visible evacuation diagrams.

Examine all electrical devices and their power sources. All electrically powered equipment – medical, clerical, or anything else in the office – must operate safely. Pay particular attention to the way wall outlets are set up. Make sure each outlet has sufficient power to run the equipment plugged into it and that circuit breakers are present and functioning. And beware the common situation of too many gadgets running off a single circuit.

Now, review your list of hazardous chemicals, which all employees have a right to know about. Keep in mind that OSHA’s list contains many substances – alcohol, disinfectants, even hydrogen peroxide – that you might not consider particularly dangerous but must nevertheless be on your written list of hazardous chemicals. For each of these, your employees must also have access to the manufacturer-supplied Material Safety Data Sheet, which outlines the proper procedures for working with a specific substance and for handling and containing it in a spill or other emergency.

How old is your written exposure control plan for blood-borne pathogens? It should document your use of such protective equipment as gloves, face and eye protection, and gowns, and your implementation of universal precautions – and it’s supposed to be updated annually, to reflect changes in technology. You need not adopt every new safety device as it comes on the market, but you should document which ones you are using, and why.

For example, you and your employees may decide not to purchase a new safety needle because you don’t think it will improve safety, or that it will be more trouble than it’s worth; but you should document how you arrived at your decision and what you plan to use instead.

You must provide all at-risk employees with hepatitis B vaccine, at no cost to them. You also must provide and pay for appropriate medical treatment and follow-up after any exposure to a dangerous pathogen.

Other components of the rule include proper containment of regulated medical waste, identification of regulated waste containers, sharps disposal boxes, and periodic employee training regarding all of those things.

Federal OSHA regulations do not require medical and dental offices to keep an injury and illness log, as other businesses must; but your state may have such a requirement that supersedes the federal law. Check with your state, or with your local OSHA office, regarding any such requirements.

It is a mistake to take OSHA regulations lightly; failure to comply with them can result in stiff penalties running into many thousands of dollars.

How can you be certain you are complying with all the rules? The easiest and cheapest way is to call your local OSHA office and request an inspection. Why would you want to do that? Because in return for agreeing to have your office inspected, OSHA will agree not to cite you for any violations they find, as long as you fix them.

Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a longtime monthly columnist for Dermatology News. Write to him at [email protected].

Next Article: