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Newton medical provider cited by OSHA after workers exposed to biohazards

Posted by Laura Franzini  October 31, 2012 02:50 PM

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New England Hematology/Oncology Associates PC, a medical service provider in Newton, has been cited by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration for "an alleged willful and an alleged serious violation of workplace safety standards," the agency announced.

It came after an OSHA inspection revealed that workers were being exposed to biohazards, according to a press release from the Department of Labor's Office of Public Affairs in Boston.

Proposed penalties total $46,900.

Amy Carlton, administrative director of New England Hematology/Oncology Associates PC, said the company was appealing

“We have not seen the press release so all I can say is that we completely disagree with the citations that were issued and their classifications [as willful and serious],” she said Wednesday afternoon.

The company has filed an appeal with OSHA challenging the citation and their classifications, she said. She said couldn’t comment any further.

The press release states that OSHA's Andover-area office initiated the inspection in April in response to complaints by medical workers that the needles used to treat cancer patients were not safety-engineered devices and that, in removing the needles, workers were at risk of needlestick injuries. OSHA found that the workers were potentially exposed to bloodborne pathogens from needlesticks because safer needle systems, such as automatically sheathing needles, were not used.

OSHA also found that the medical provider had been made aware by workers that a safer needle system was needed, but continued to use a system that was not engineered to reduce the risk of injury. As a result, OSHA has issued a citation carrying a $42,000 fine for one willful violation.

A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

"The willful violation exists because the employer initially agreed to address the issue, as required by the regulation, but did not follow through," said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA's area director in Andover. "This medical provider put workers at risk of coming into contact with needlestick injuries because it failed to use the safest technology available to them."

According to the press release, OSHA also has issued a citation with a $4,900 fine for one serious violation that involves failing to review and update an exposure control plan; document the evaluation and implementation of appropriate, commercially available, and effective medical devices designed to minimize occupational bloodborne pathogen exposure; and document employees' hepatitis B vaccination status.

A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

New England Hematology/Oncology Associates PC has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet informally with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Detailed information about bloodborne pathogen hazards and needlestick prevention is available online at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/bloodbornepathogens/index.html.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities, or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Andover office at 978-837-4460.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education, and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

Laura Franzini can be reached at laura.franzini@globe.com.

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