OSHA cites VA for improper biohazard waste disposal

OSHA reports that a buildup of improperly-disposed-of human tissue clogged a pipe at the Memphis VA, a biohazard violation and another in a two-year string of scandals there.

Seal of the U.S. Veterans Administration. (Public domain, U.S. government image)

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2016 — A recent report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that the Memphis VA Medical Center improperly discarded biohazardous waste, confirming a story first broken by CDN in March.

According to the report, a March 29 OSHA inspection found that a pipe was clogged by body tissue that had built up in the pipes.

According to the report, “On or about 3/15/2016 an Engineer Pipe-Fitter was working at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center located at 1030 Jefferson Avenue in Memphis, TN, and was exposed to body issue and their job classification was not assessed as to exposure classification.”

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The OSHA investigation occurred at about the time that CDN first reported that biohazard material like body tissue was not being properly disposed at the Memphis VAMC and was filtering into the pipes. OSHA found six violations, including a number classified as “serious,” the second highest classification after “extreme.”

Willie Logan, public affairs officer for Memphis VAMC and Sandra Glover, public affairs officer for Veteran Integrated Service Network (VISN) 9, which includes the Memphis VAMC, did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

Addressing another “serious” violation, OSHA wrote, “The employer did not make available Hepatitis B vaccine and vaccination series to all employees who have occupational exposure.” 

The Memphis VAMC will be required to post the OSHA report on their walls, and OSHA will demand that the problems be fixed, according Sean Higgins, a Memphis VAMC employee and whistleblower who has helped CDN with several stories on the Memphis VAMC.

“As a whistleblower and Former Union (NAGE) Safety officer I have been uncovering and reporting to OSHA various violations of the health and safety codes. But what disturbs or angers me most is not the toxic environment that I and others have had to work in but the poisonous disregard for the safety of the veterans, employees at the Memphis VA.” Higgins said.

This latest incident continues a string of embarrassing revelations at the hospital, which has recently seen a change in leadership. The previous head, C. Diane Knight, was replaced by James Mills.

In 2014, a VA Office of Inspector General report found the hospital had some of the worst wait times in the country. In August 2015, CDN reported that the ward where paraplegics were housed was being left unattended for about an hour per day for an all-staff meeting.

Higgins, who recently got his job back after a federal judge ruled he had been terminated improperly, said that every month for nearly two years, the media have reported new scandals at the hospital.

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