In response the August outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the South Bronx, Mayor DeBlasio and the New York City Council are drafting legislation that will require changes in the maintenance and inspection of building cooling towers, where LDB, the bacteria that causes the disease can grow. LDB finds warm water systems or devices that disperse water such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers, humidifiers, and holding tanks particularly hospitable. People who lack immunity or resistance can contract the disease by breathing in microscopic airborne droplets of water that contain elevated levels of LDB. The best method of prevention is to eliminate water conditions that allow bacteria to grow to high levels.
Legionnaires’ disease has shown up with increasing frequency in New York and other cities over the past decade. The legislation will seek to break the cycle by emphasizing preventive measures such as inspections, more frequent water testing, and sanctions against building owners for non-compliance.
The legislation was announced after a Town Hall meeting held the night before at the Bronx Museum of the Arts where Anne Bové, RN and NYSNA President of the HHC/Mayorals Executive Council, addressed the meeting as one of the panelists. Ms. Bové provided information to the gathering regarding the signs and symptoms of and treatment for the disease. She urged that legislation be introduced to increase safety inspections and treatments of cooling towers.
OSHA to expand healthcare workplace monitoring
Following the recent release of “Nursing: A Profession in Peril,” Public Citizen’s five-part series spotlighting healthcare occupational injury and illness, OSHA announced it would add musculoskeletal disorders, bloodborne pathogens, workplace violence, tuberculosis, and slips, trips and falls to the list of hazards that agency investigators should look for when inspecting hospitals and nursing homes. In its report, Public Citizen faulted OSHA for lax efforts in addressing safety risks at healthcare facilities.
The series’ final report, titled “Little Support from Above” and released on July 8, reviews various entities — government oversight agencies, organizations that represent healthcare workers, and healthcare providers — on their approaches to the epidemic of injuries related to the handling of patients.
Organizations representing healthcare providers, such as the American Hospital Association and the American Health Care Association, support neither regulatory nor non-regulatory solutions to reduce injuries tied to patient handling. These industry groups also oppose proposals aimed at improving the reporting of workplace injuries.
In 2000, OSHA had issued a regulation requiring employers to implement programs to combat work-related musculoskeletal disorders, but Congress subsequently repealed it. “It is a cruel irony that an industry devoted to health shows such disregard for the health of its own employees,” wrote Taylor Lincoln, the Public Citizen report’s author.
Public Citizen concludes that government agencies such as OSHA and organizations representing healthcare workers, including NYSNA, share a perspective that more stringent safeguards should be in place. NYSNA is committed to persevering in its effort for higher levels of safeguards.
Failure to control TB risks
On July 13, OSHA issued a new directive that calls for inspectors to issue citations to healthcare employers that have failed to implement a risk assessment program for worker exposure to Tuberculosis. “Enforcement Procedures and Scheduling for Occupational Exposure to Tuberculosis” (CPL 02-02-078) allows federal regulators to penalize healthcare employers for these lapses, adding a new level of enforcement not available under the agency’s previous TB directive. This new directive was made known shortly after OSHA announced greater oversight of healthcare facilities in an attempt to diminish the industry’s high rates of occupational injuries and illnesses.