Vermont Vets' Home fined for not evaluating potential hazards

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BENNINGTON — Leaders of the Vermont Veterans' Home want more information from the state's Health and Safety Administration after being told to review its workplace violence prevention program.

The Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA) issued a $2,700 fine to the facility last week for not evaluating potential workplace hazards and not providing staff with protective gear.

The home was notified last week via two letters from VOSHA Manager Dan Whipple. The home's Board of Trustees discussed VOSHA's action during a regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday.

Healthcare facilities like the home "are generally recognized as having a higher incidence rate of workplace violence due in part to the nature of patients cared for in such facilities," Whipple wrote. The home has a "general duty to protect its employees" with a workplace violence program.

"In this case, VOSHA finds that the Veterans' Home recognized the hazard, and has aspects of a workplace violence program in place, but it is deficient in many respects," Whipple wrote in an Aug. 5 letter explaining the citation.

Melissa Jackson, the home's administrator, said she requested an informal conference with VOSHA's manager. She said the letters indicate the facility needs to tighten up its personnel policies, some of which don't necessarily fall under workplace violence or risk assessment.

"I need clarification over what specifically they're looking for," she told the Banner.

VOSHA visited the 138-bed facility after an incident between a resident and staff member, Jackson said. She said she could not discuss more details because it involves a resident.

An administrator with the state Department of Labor and VOSHA did not answer an emailed inquiry by press time on Wednesday.

VOSHA's investigation of a complaint found the home did not have measures to protect workers from assaults, according to an Aug. 2 letter from Whipple.

The letter cites an OSHA directive adopted in 2011 (CPL 02-01-052), which establishes procedures for healthcare and social service settings and instructs employers "to develop a written, comprehensive workplace violence program."

No citation was issued for lack of a program. But Whipple wrote that he recommended the home's administrators take steps to "eliminate or materially reduce" employees' exposure to hazardous conditions associated with workplace violence.

VOSHA investigators did not find the home conducted a hazard assessment or provided staff with "personal protective equipment," according to an Aug. 5 letter from Whipple. The letter cites an OSHA standard which requires employers to determine whether hazards are present and, if they are, provide employees with arm pads, shin pads, chest protectors and other equipment to protect them from being punched or kicked from residents.

"This is statewide, it's more than an issue with just us," Board of Trustee President Joseph Krawczyk said during Wednesday's trustee meeting. It's worth the home's time to meet and talk with VOSHA, he said, not necessarily to appeal it, but also to teach those in Montpelier.

"We'd have to arm our staff in riot gear to follow the rules they're trying to tell us to do," he said.

Jackson said VOSHA did not indicate what type of protective equipment would be required, which was one of the reasons why she requested the informal conference.

Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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