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January 19, 2012
Governor Signs Occupational Safety-Related Laws; New Requirements for Safe Patient Handling, Body Artists, and Pipelines

The Legislature had a busy session in 2011, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed a flurry of bills into law this fall—including three that will affect occupational safety and health in California. We'll provide an overview of those laws.

Safe Patient Handling

Supporters have tried since 2004 to require safe patient-handling programs in healthcare facilities. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected five different bills addressing these programs between 2004 and 2008. The most recent one, A.B. 1136, the Hospital Patient and Health Care Worker Injury Protection Act, finally succeeded when Brown signed it last month.

The law requires all general acute care hospitals to:

  • Maintain a safe patient-handling policy at all times for all patient care units. Hospitals must develop a written safe patient-handling policy by Jan. 1, 2013, that requires replacement of manual lifting and transferring of patients with powered patient transfer devices, lifting devices, or lift teams.

  • Provide trained lift teams or other support staff trained in safe-lifting techniques.

  • Purchase enough safe patient-handling equipment to eliminate the need to conduct manual patient handling and transfers.

  • Provide a registered nurse as the coordinator of care, who is responsible for the observation and direction of patient lifts and mobilization and participates as needed in patient handling.

  • Train healthcare workers on the appropriate use of lifting devices and equipment to handle patients safely and the five areas of body exposure (vertical, lateral, bariatric, repositioning, and ambulation).

The legislation also prohibits a hospital from taking disciplinary action against a healthcare worker who refuses to lift, reposition, or transfer a patient because of concerns about worker or patient safety or the lack of available trained lift team personnel or appropriate lifting equipment.

Practice Tip

Basic ear-piercing—done with a disposable, single-use, pre-sterilized stud or solid needle, applied with a mechanical device to force the needle or stud through the ear—is exempted from the definition of body art. Nonetheless, facilities that perform ear piercing may be required to notify their city or county health department.

Safe Body Art

As with patient lifting, supporters of stronger rules regarding tattoo and piercing parlors tried for years to get a law in place but ran into the wall of Schwarzenegger's veto. Brown has signed the most recent bill, A.B. 300, the Safe Body Art Act.

This law repeals current state regulations and replaces a patchwork of local rules with a single, more comprehensive regulation. Although most of the media coverage of the new law has focused on how it restricts minors from receiving piercings or tattoos without parental consent, its primary purpose is to protect both body art practitioners and their clients from disease transmission.

The law takes effect on July 1, 2012. It requires body artists to obtain a health permit each year from their city or county health department and to comply with requirements regarding:

  • Client information. Clients must sign a consent form that contains specific information about the procedure, post-procedure care, and signs and symptoms of illness.

  • Questionnaires. Clients must complete a questionnaire, which is to be treated as confidential medical information, about their relevant medical history.

  • Vaccination and bloodborne pathogens training. To register as a body art practitioner, applicants must be able to show that they were vaccinated against or are immune to hepatitis B and that they completed at least two hours of bloodborne pathogens training.

  • Sanitation. Sanitation requirements include handwashing, protective clothing and gloves, and procedures for cleaning, disinfecting, and sterilizing the client's skin, the practitioner's tools and work area, and any jewelry that will be inserted into the body.

The new law also requires the sponsors of body art events to obtain permits and comply with health and sanitation requirements.

Pipeline Shutoff Valves

In the wake of the San Bruno pipeline explosion in September 2010, the National Transportation Safety Board issued several recommendations to prevent or minimize damage from similar incidents in the future. S.B. 217 addresses a recommendation that could have reduced the severity of the San Bruno explosion.

The new law instructs the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to require automatic shut-off or remote-controlled valves on intrastate natural gas transmission lines located in "high consequence areas" or that traverse an active seismic earthquake fault line. "High consequence areas," which the law defines in detail, generally are areas with a high population density. The PUC has not yet determined where the valves must be installed, but the Pacific Gas and Electric Company reports that it has already begun the process of installing the valves.

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