A New Jersey hospital is facing $55,000 in penalties after an OSHA inspector looking into a separate matter discovered that a large number of workers had been accidentally stuck with needles and exposed to bloodborne pathogens.

A total of nine citations classified as "serious" were issued to Cooper Hospital in Camden while six additional citations were also issued for safety and health violations classified as "other-than-serious," the U.S Department of Labor said.

Officials said Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors issued citations indicating that the hospital failed to provide employees with training about the hazards of the cancer-causing chemical methylene chloride. According to OSHA, the chemical is a liquid with a chloroform-like odor that's used for paint stripping, pharmaceutical manufacturing, metal cleaning and degreasing.

Inspectors also cited the hospital for alleged violations regarding safeguards that are supposed to be in place to protect workers from exposure to needles. OSHA on Thursday said that Cooper Hospital allegedly failed to "immediately discard" contaminated needles in appropriate sharps containers. The medical facility also was negligent in making sure the procedure used to prevent needlesticks included "engineering controls."

Specifically, one citation states that in operating rooms the hospital allegedly didn't institute "work practice controls" for employees that passed contaminated sharps, such as needles, to and from the surgeons. As a result, employees suffered puncture wounds. Similar instances allegedly occurred throughout the hospital with suture needles used for stitches.

“The citations and proposed penalties in this case reflect the seriousness of Cooper Hospital’s failure to protect its employees from needle-stick injuries and bloodborne pathogen hazards,” Paula Dixon-Roderick, OSHA’s area director in Marlton, said in a statement. “The hospital must continue monitoring and investing in sustained efforts to prevent these injuries from jeopardizing worker safety and health.”

One of the citations indicates that the hospital did not provide training to employees charged with tasks such as emptying drains, clearing ventilators, cleaning tracheotomies, removing IV lines and Foley catheters. OSHA's citation indicates that those employees should have been instructed to wear eye and face protection to keep them from coming in contact with bloodborne pathogens.

Wendy Marano, a spokesperson for Cooper University Hospital, said the hospital is taking the citations very seriously and they plan to address the problems cited by OSHA.

"Cooper University Health Care is committed to the health and safety of our patients and employees,"  Marano said in a statement on behalf of the hospital. "Cooper is driving a culture of safety with numerous, long-standing initiatives and ongoing education and training with the input of employees, physicians and leadership. We are taking the report seriously and will actively address these issues."

The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing $55,000 in penalties in connection with the citations. According to a statement, the hospital has 15 business days from the time the citations and proposed penalties were received to either comply or request to meet with OSHA officials. Cooper can also contest the investigator's findings withe OSHA's Review Commission, the agency stated.

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