California state psych hospital fined for safety violations

March 2, 2012

State safety investigators Thursday issued three citations totaling $38,555 against Atascadero State Hospital for unsafe working conditions for staff treating the facility’s mentally ill and violent offenders.

ASH officials were not immediately available for comment. They have 15 working days to appeal the citations.

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued its findings after conducting an investigation late last year that included a walk-through of ASH in September.

The investigation was prompted by employee complaints, according to Paul Hannula, president of the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians’ ASH chapter.

“I want them to address the safety concerns that have been present for a very long time,” Hannula said. “We can’t keep hoping for the best and ignoring the deficiencies. We do not want anybody to die.”

Employees often voice their safety concerns, Hannula said, but he contacted Cal/OSHA after a female psychiatric technician suffered a serious head injury and a broken facial bone in late August when a patient beat her inside a restroom where emergency alarms were not present.

The violation with the largest proposed fine — $25,000 — claims that from 1994 to 2011, ASH failed to correct workplace safety hazards that led to patient assaults on employees.

The report cites that an average of eight staff assaults occurred per month at ASH from January 2007 to October 2011, resulting in “severe head trauma, fractures, contusions, lacerations and bites.”

ASH was also faulted for not effectively implementing certain safety features. The concerns include lax control of patient access in the hospital; inadequate alarms; a lack of security personnel; not properly using the buddy system; and inadequate staffing during evening shifts and when responding to alarms.

ASH received a separate violation for reportedly not placing alarms, which staff use to signal for help in emergencies, in all areas of the hospital after state investigators found no alarms in closets, restrooms, stairwells, showers and patients’ rooms.

ASH was also faulted for not properly protecting the confidentiality of employees’ names on certain Cal/OSHA forms, blocking access to an electrical panel that controlled door locks, blocking access to fire extinguishers in a laundry room and not giving employees the proper protective gear for touching blood or for when working with agitated patients.

Source: Tonya Strickland, "Atascadero State Hospital fined for safety violations," San Luis Obispo Tribune, March 2, 2012.


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