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The Boston Globe

North

Lawrence

Adult services agency gets OSHA citations

CLASS contests penalties on safety, training

The Citizens League for Adult Special Services Inc., a Lawrence-based nonprofit that provides clinical support, education, and job training to individuals with disabilities, has been cited by federal safety officials after inspectors found several instances of unsafe working conditions, primarily for employees who staff the agency’s transport vehicles.

Following an inspection conducted May 20, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration late last month cited CLASS for several hazards, including the agency’s failure to provide disposable gloves for “employees who may have to clean vomit, urine, etc. while transporting individuals away from the establishment” and failure to provide “a method for hand cleaning for employees that had exposure to urine, vomit, etc. away from the work site.”

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CLASS is contesting the citation and proposed penalties, which total $7,200.

“We were praised by OSHA during that site visit for the quality of the facility and how it is being managed,” CLASS spokeswoman Robin Ellington said in an e-mail to the Globe.

The agency, which has a second service site in North Reading and a transportation facility in North Andover, has contested the citation, requesting an informal hearing, but, as the OSHA office was not allowed to work during the government shutdown, its response is pending, Ellington said.

The May inspection of CLASS was prompted by a complaint filed on behalf of CLASS workers by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, a Dorchester nonprofit.

According to Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, the coalition’s executive director, the coalition notified OSHA that at least two workers, possibly three, had reported “itching and similar concerns” that they “associated with a potential pest problem.”

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Employees went to the coalition shortly after the director of health and clinical services at CLASS, in a May 6 memo, notified all residential providers and families that a worker at the agency’s Lawrence headquarters had been diagnosed with scabies, a contagious skin condition.

Investigators found “no evidence of infestation” during the inspection and noted that “the employer showed evidence of working with an exterminating company for routine and any potential vermin/rodent/pest issues,” according to a letter sent to Goldstein-Gelb by OSHA area director Jeffrey A. Erskine on Sept. 25.

CLASS also was cited for allegedly failing to assess the potential for exposure to hazards by employees who help individuals on and off the agency’s vehicles, and failing to provide bloodborne pathogen training to all employees at least annually.

The alleged violations were deemed “serious” by OSHA. A serious violation occurs when there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

CLASS was given until Nov. 13 to take corrective action.

“While front-line workers have yet to see CLASS management take any meaningful steps to address these serious health and safety violations, OSHA has laid out clear deadlines for action,” Jason Stephany, spokesman for Local 509 of the Services Employees International Union, the Massachusetts Human Service Workers Union that represents CLASS workers, said in an e-mail to the Globe. “The clock is ticking.”

Meanwhile, the union is awaiting hearings on charges it filed with the National Labor Relations Board alleging CLASS engaged in unfair labor practices, including disciplining and/or discharging workers known or perceived to have voted in support of the union.

CLASS president and chief executive officer Robert A. Harris has disputed the charges, stating that the workers were terminated in accordance with the agency’s policies, the policies of the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, and state regulations.

CLASS workers voted to join the union on May 29. The vote was 48 to 46. In all, 95 ballots were cast; one ballot was challenged and was not included in the final count.

CLASS challenged the election results, claiming interference by union organizers with the way the election was conducted.

A hearing officer with the NLRB’s Boston office recommended on July 26 that all objections filed by CLASS be overruled and that the NLRB recognize the Service Employees International Union as the representative union for CLASS employees.

CLASS has appealed the NLRB decision.

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com.

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