By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR HEALTH REPORTER
BOARDMAN -- The Mahoning County Medical Society has entered into a first-of-its-kind partnering agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that will provide medical society members with enhanced training.
This training in OSHA rules will help the members avoid random OSHA inspections.
On Thursday, representatives of OSHA and the 285-member medical society signed the two-year pilot agreement, the first such medical-related pact in the nation, said Rob Medlock, director of OSHA's Region V. Region V includes Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.
OSHA is a federal agency that investigates employee complaints about workplace safety and inspects workplaces for compliance with safety rules, with the goal of reducing injuries on the job.
The pioneering partnership agreement rewards medical society members who have employee injury and illness rates at an average of 25 percent below the national average, and a good track record with OSHA, by removing them from the random inspection list.
When OSHA investigates a complaint at a work site it looks at everything, not just the specific complaint. The results can be devastating in terms of lost time, penalties and citations, said William Johnson, a safety consultant with Johnson & amp; Gunn of Youngstown.
What agreement does: The partnering agreement will permit medical society members to subject themselves to inspections by private experts, sometimes in concert with OSHA agents, to determine if they are in compliance -- thereby possibly avoiding OSHA punitive action.
Johnson noted the partnering agreement will not shield physicians from investigations of legitimate employee complaints or accidents and injuries.
What it will do, he said, is make it easier for physicians to be more aware of workplace safety issues and regulations and make improvements, and to reduce citations and penalties for OSHA violations.
Part of the importance of the partnership, Medlock said, is that it gives OSHA an alternative to traditional enforcement in the form of extra safety and health programs. It requires training beyond minimum OSHA requirements, he said.
The medical society's objective is to be in compliance with OSHA rules, said Dr. Eugene L. Potesta Jr., society president. He said "traditionally, the relationship between OSHA and physicians could be perceived as adversarial,"
Focus on education: Dr. Ronald M. Yarab, immediate past president of the society, thinks the partnering agreement will foster a less threatening environment because its focus is educational in nature as opposed to punitive. He said that the additional training will make it easier to keep abreast of OSHA regulations and that he wishes other agencies would take the same tack.
Johnson, who has done OSHA compliance work with the medical society for eight years, will organize seminars on OSHA regulations for the society. He said the society was chosen for the program because of its history of providing safety training programs to the local medical community.