The state’s Department of Labor and Industry’s safety division has issued a $63,000 fine against the Minnesota Security Hospital for “serious” violations stemming from a surprise inspection of the St. Peter facility following a July 13 incident.

Officials at the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration division and the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which operates the security hospital, both confirmed the fine. However, OSHA officials cannot comment on the fine during the 20-day window in which DHS could contest the citation.

The citation and notification of penalty was issued Dec. 4 and, resulting from the July 16 surprise OSHA inspection, contained nine dates between May 10 and July 13 during which insufficient safeguards at the facility potentially jeopardized employee safety.

On at least one occasion during the reported July 13 assault by a MSH patient on a staff member, serious injuries occurred. A female security counselor was grabbed by the hair, had her head hit several times against a wall, and kicked repeatedly.

According to the Minnesota OSHA Workplace Inspections manual from the state’s Department of Labor and Industry, a “serious” violation is classified “where death or serious physical harm has resulted or would reasonably be expected to result from an employee’s exposure to aa violation…” The $7,000 penalty per incident is “the maximum permitted by law.”

DHS officials did confirm “that the Minnesota Security Hospital received a citation and notification of penalty from MNOSHA for nine items totaling $63,000 (or $7,000 each).” Carol Olson, executive director of the state’s Forensics Services and the St. Peter facility, issued this official statement:

“More work needs to be done to improve safety at the Minnesota Security Hospital. We are committed to that work, and are currently collaborating with staff, labor partners and others to ensure a safer environment for all employees and patients.

“The Bureau of Mediation Services is currently leading a process on campus that brings together employees and other stakeholders to develop solutions to safety issues at the facility. Our staff and management have reported positive feedback about these efforts, and we look forward to hearing more from this group in the coming months.

“Additionally, the department will be working with lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session to make additional safety improvements, including key upgrades to facilities at the Minnesota Security Hospital – which will be an essential component of that effort.”

Union officials affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, which represents workers at the MSH in St. Peter, also confirmed the citation and penalties. But AFSCME officials said progress is being made at the St. Peter facility, and agreed with Olson’s statement that labor and management are communicating better in hopes of remedying safety concerns at MSH.

In contrast to some other harsh criticism of safety concerns in St. Peter, including strong ongoing words from state Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center), AFSCME officials expressed encouragement over Olson’s prompt response to the staff’s safety concerns, including the recent assault on another female security counselor.

AFSCME officials said since the July 13 assault on a security counselor, new protocols call for quick labor-management collaboration and response at MSH.

Reach Associate Editor Dana Melius at 507-931-8568 or follow him on Twitter @SPHdanajohn.

Former Regional Managing Editor, Adams Publishing Group--Southern Minnesota/Western Division: St. Peter Herald, Waseca County News, Le Center Leader, Le Sueur News-Herald. Now serving as a freelance reporter.

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