The Role of Occupational Safety and Health
in the Field of Medical Care

By Jeffery Kay

Healthcare continues to be one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the United States today. Occupational safety and health plays a critical role in the ability of hospitals and healthcare organizations to safely provide patient care in a rapidly changing environment. The occupational safety and health professional is responsible for programs that cover safety for patients, visitors and staff.  To adequately develop and implement these programs, the occupational safety and health professional must be well versed in the standards issued by a variety of federal and state agencies, including the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many others.

learn more about OSH degree programsIn order to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, hospitals must follow guidelines set out by CMS, commonly called Conditions of Participation (CoP). To monitor compliance with published CoPs,  CMS grants authority to survey healthcare organizations to four entities, the Joint Commission (TJC), the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP), Det Norske Veritas (DNV), and for laboratory requirements, the College of American Pathologists (CAP). Standards within the care environment and life safety chapters continue to be a major focus for healthcare organizations due to the frequency of citations during accreditation surveys. For healthcare organizations, the accreditation standards specific to occupational safety and health fall within six major areas:

  • Safety –Includes an annual risk assessment and development of plans for management of identified risks. Management of product recalls and notices.
  • Utilities –Involves identification for testing, inspecting, and maintaining of all components of each utility system. Utility systems consist of electrical, water, waste, steam, heating, cooling, communications, medical gas and natural gas, to name a few.
  • Hazardous Materials Management –Includes compliance with all federal and state hazardous materials and waste regulations, management of safety data sheets (SDS) and compliance with the personal protective equipment standard.
  • Fire/Life Safety – Covers documentation of testing and inspection for each component of the fire system, including annunciation devices, suppression, smoke dampers, and fire extinguishers.
  • Security – Comprises identification of security-sensitive areas, workplace violence mitigation and access control.
  • Medical Equipment Management –Includes maintenance of inventory and inspection records for equipment designated as critical, for infection prevention and high risk.

Some of the most often cited standards are those concerning preservation of the means of egress; compliance with testing and maintenance of emergency power systems; management of hazardous materials and waste; maintenance of fire extinguishing and fire protection systems; and provision of a safe environment for patients, visitors, and staff.

In addition to the CMS CoPs, healthcare organizations must also comply with the following OSHA standards: Hazard Communication, Global Harmonization System, Hearing Conservation, Personal Protective Equipment, Respiratory Protection, and Asbestos Management.

The occupational safety and health professional must manage the risk of injury to healthcare workers during the performance of their duties.

The occupational safety and health professional must manage the risk of injury to healthcare workers during the performance of their duties. Back injuries to healthcare workers are a leading cause of missed work time, often due to improper lifting techniques during patient transfer. The healthcare safety professional must be well versed in the proper ergonomic requirements for safe patient lifting and transfer.

Exposure to blood borne pathogens is another serious risk to the healthcare worker. Exposures are often the result of improper use of personal protective equipment, and the safety professional must ensure that protective equipment is regularly evaluated, staff is properly trained in its use and the protective equipment is readily available.

The increase in workplace violence within the healthcare field requires the safety professional to develop and implement plans to mitigate the serious threat of an attack on their organization.

To accomplish these varied responsibilities the occupational safety and health professional must have a broad base of knowledge and experience. There are many degrees at both the associate and bachelor’s levels that will provide the necessary scope of knowledge to begin a career in occupational safety and health. Many organizations also offer certification programs for specific areas within the field of occupational safety and health that will validate the experience that the safety professional has obtained.

Jeffrey Kay is currently the safety officer/director of accreditation, safety, emergency management and infection prevention for Sparrow Health System. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a Master of Science in Occupational Safety and Health from Columbia Southern University. He has over 30 years of experience in the occupational safety and health field and is certified by the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) as a Certified Professional in Patient Safety (CPPS).