Making sure medical care is ‘readily available’ when needed

by on December 14, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“What happened?” supervisor Allen Porter asked as he rushed into the break room and saw forklift driver Emmylou Bastrop stretched on a bench.

“She got a jolt of juice when she tried to take the lift’s replacement battery out of the charging station,” a co-worker said. “I found her on the floor, and paged you.”

“How long has she been lying here?” Allen asked the co-worker.

“Half hour or so,” came the response.

Checking her condition
“How do you feel?” Allen asked, turning to Emmylou and taking her wrist to check her pulse.

“Not bad, considering,” she said.

“Battery get you?” Allen asked.

“Yeah, across my hands,” Emmylou responded, holding them out. They were unmarked.

“Do you need to go to the hospital?” Allen asked.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I feel like I’m gonna be all right if I can rest for a few minutes.”

Inspecting the scene
“Take all the time you need,” Allen said. “I’ll go have a look at the battery.”

Allen went to the charging station, where he noticed a black mark on the battery. “Soot from arcing,” he thought.

Ten minutes later, as Allen was still checking the battery and charging cables, the co-worker walked up.

“Emmylou wants to go to the hospital after all,” he said.

“Can you drive her?” Allen asked.

“Sure,” the co-worker said.

Five minutes later Emmylou was at the ER. She was diagnosed with nerve damage in her hands and arms.

When OSHA inspected the accident scene, the CO cited the company for failing to ensure the ready availability of medical personnel to assist Emmylou.

The company appealed the citation. Did it win?

The decision
Yes. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission threw the citation out.

Although OSHA argued the 45-minute delay in providing medical care to Emmylou was too long, the Commission noted that the “readily available” standard – 29 CFR § 1910.151(a) – doesn’t prescribe any set amount of time. (A different standard, § 1910.151(b), does require emergency facilities be in “near proximity” – 3-4 minutes – if no employee is trained in first aid.)

Allen’s observation of Emmylou’s physical condition turned up no obvious problems. She could breathe and speak normally, she wasn’t sweating, and she didn’t have any visible bruises or burns.
Plus, the company had done several things to comply with the standard, ranging from a list of emergency phone numbers to an on-site first aid kit.

Here’s what Safety Directors can do to ensure medical care is “readily available”:

  • Have at least one employee per work unit trained in first aid, and provide first-aid kits.
  • Give all departments a list of emergency numbers – fire, ambulance, poison control, etc. – and verify that they keep it handy.
  • Check that supervisors know where the nearest hospital or emergency medical facility is, and the fastest way to get there.
  • Train all personnel to call 911 in case of medical emergency.

Cite: Sec’y. of Labor v. Fresenius USA Mfg., No. 10-0652, OSHRC.

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