OSHA Denial Roils Resident Work-Hour Reformists

Reaction has been mixed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s recent decision to deny a second petition from the Public Citizen Health Research Group and other groups to have OSHA, rather than the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, regulate resident/fellow work hours.

The American Medical Association, which had worked to keep ACGME at the helm, applauded OSHA’s decision in a recent statement .

“The ACGME is the appropriate body to regulate and monitor resident duty hours, as it is optimally suited to oversee resident and fellow physician duty hours on behalf of both the profession and the public,” AMA president Dr. Peter Carmel said. “We are pleased that OSHA agrees.”

In denying the petition, OSHA officials wrote that resident duty hour standards are “best addressed within the context of resident training and education,” and that new duty hour standards and enforcement mechanisms that took effect in July 2011 “provide an opportunity for ACGME to take meaningful steps to protect the health of resident physicians within the context of their overall residency experience.”

OSHA officials also noted that federal whistleblowers provisions protect residents and interns who voice concerns related to extended work hours.

Public Citizen fired back in a letter to OSHA that the Obama administration was rehashing “the same discredited Bush-era arguments of nine years ago when our first petition was rejected on almost identical grounds.”

The group went on to say that “OSHA has, once again, opted out of its legal obligation to protect residents from excessive work hours, deferring instead to a largely unaccountable private entity, the ACGME.”

Currently, when a resident reports work-hour violations, they risk retaliation from colleagues and put their training programs at risk for probation and even loss of accreditation, Sonia Lazreg, health justice fellow with the American Medical Student Association, said in an interview.

After the 2003 work rules were implemented, more than 80% of residents reported that their programs were in violation when they could report anonymously to an external body, she said. During the same period, ACGME resident survey reporting suggested that only 3% of programs were in violation.

“Only when we have external enforcement, beyond the ACGME, will we see true implementation of duty hours,” she added.

The AMSA co-petitioned OSHA based on what Lazreg described as overwhelming evidence that current schedules cause an increase in mood disorders, motor vehicle accidents, pregnancy complications and needle-stick injuries among residents. As the federal body tasked with ensuring employee safety and health, she said OSHA has a responsibility to intervene when evidence so strongly points to worker harm.

“OSHA’s denial translates into continued employee risk, injury and death,” Lazreg said.

With so much on the line, it’s unlikely that either side will give ground on this contentious issue any time soon. Notably, OSHA said it had received 15 letters in support of OSHA regulating resident hours and 26 letters in opposition.

 Where do you fit it? Let us know.

By Patrice Wendling

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Filed under Health Policy, IMNG, Polls, Practice Trends

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