Labor Dept cites Ohio nursing homes for COVID-19 violations

July 22 (Reuters) - Three Ohio nursing homes were cited for worker safety violations, including using the same respirator for a week, following government inspections prompted by staff hospitalizations for coronavirus, the U.S. Department of Labor said on Tuesday.

The citation appears to be the first tied to the coronavirus and workplace safety, based on the department’s website.

Inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that the operator of the three nursing homes, OHNH EMP LLC, also lacked a comprehensive respiratory protection program and failed to determine employees’ ability to use a respirator, the department said.

The company also did not conduct initial fit testing of respirators.

Seven employees of the nursing homes were hospitalized for coronavirus, the department said.

OSHA proposed $40,482 in penalties. The citation and penalty can be contested by the company, which does business as Pebble Creek Healthcare Center in Akron, Ohio, and Salem West Healthcare Center and Salem North Healthcare Center in Salem, Ohio.

The company, which is part of the CommuniCare group, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In May, OSHA issued its first COVID-19 citation to a nursing home. A Georgia operator violated a record-keeping requirement regarding the hospitalization of six employees. The coronavirus and COVID-19 respiratory disease it causes have ravaged nursing homes, and healthcare workers have urged OSHA to issue enforceable safety mandates to employers, but the agency has preferred a flexible approach relying on guidance.

In April, U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said “the cop is on the beat” in response to union criticism about a lack of action to protect workers.

Workplace safety has become a major fault line in responding to the coronavirus epidemic in the United States. Businesses have been seeking protection from worker lawsuits while unions have pressed Congress for standards to ensure workplace safety. (Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)