U.S. hits nursing home operator with first coronavirus workplace citation

(Reuters) - The Department of Labor cited an Ohio nursing home operator for failing to protect workers from the coronavirus, the first time that a U.S. employer was found in violation of federal safety protections relating to COVID-19.

Healthcare company OHNH EMP LLC, which operates as CommuniCare Health Services, was cited for violations at three Ohio nursing homes. The operator allowed staff to use the same N95 respirator for up to a week and lacked a comprehensive respiratory protection plan, among other violations, the department said on Tuesday.

The company disputed the findings and said it intended to seek an adjustment of the citation and proposed penalty of $40,482.

The citations by the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration are the first for safety related to the coronavirus, a department spokesman said on Wednesday. Citations can lead to fines.

OSHA has received 7,943 complaints about workplace safety related to the coronavirus pandemic and completed investigations of 6,086.

In May, OSHA cited a Georgia nursing home for record-keeping violations related to coronavirus, according to the spokesman.

Unions have demanded OSHA issue enforceable rules requiring stricter safety measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

OSHA has issued guidance that it says allows businesses to respond more quickly to a rapidly changing outbreak.

In the case of the Ohio nursing homes, inspectors from OSHA investigated after seven workers were hospitalized.

The company said it has been proactive by adopting protective measures before they were recommended by regulators and spent more than $4 million on protective gear.

“We believe OSHA’s decision was made in a vacuum,” said Fred Stratmann, the company’s general counsel. He said the company made reasonable efforts to comply but also noted it was not required to put in place a respiratory protection plan.

Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; additional reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Noeleen Walder and Leslie Adler