Federal agencies Recordkeeping

Injury and illness recordkeeping

A look at the basics – and common sources of confusion


In 2007, to add value for clients of her insurance brokerage, Lauren Gizzi began her delve into the world of OSHA injury and illness recordkeeping – including multiple readings of the agency’s handbook on the subject.

It’s a topic “near and dear to my heart,” and one that’s often misunderstood, said Gizzi, vice president of safety at Schaumburg, IL-based Assurance – a Marsh & McLennan Agency company.

It also can prove complex and confusing for many employers. For instance, what if an employee is injured while slipping on ice in the company parking lot before beginning the workday? Is the injury recordable? What if the parking lot is shared with other businesses?

Or, what if an employee is injured in one calendar year and remains out of work during the early part of the next year? Under which year would the employer record the employee’s days away from work?

These are a few of the scenarios and subsequent questions that can arise when people seek to complete OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping forms correctly and accurately. Some employers, however, can struggle even with the basics.

Who needs to record injuries and illnesses?

One basic concept that creates confusion is if and when employers need to keep OSHA logs, said Anthony Tilton, partner at Coney Construction Law.

Under 1904.1 of its Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness Standard, OSHA provides partial exemptions for establishments that have 10 or fewer employees for a full calendar year.

If an organization hires an 11th employee even for a day, it has to maintain OSHA logs for that year. The total number of employees applies to the entire organization, not just individual establishments within an organization. Further, the 11th employee doesn’t have to be full-time; if he or she is a part-time, contract or a temporary employee, the employer must log injuries and illnesses.

“The way I always try to explain it is peak employment,” Tilton said. “What was your peak employment last calendar year? Eight people? That’s the most you ever had? Great. You’re exempt.” But if a small-business employer says, “‘Well, no, wait a minute. We did hire four people, but it was only for a weekend.’ Nope. Peak employment [was 12]; you’ve got to keep records.”

Under 1904.2, OSHA provides partial exemptions for individual establishments based on North American Industry Classification System codes. A list of those partially exempt industries is available on OSHA’s website. Unsure of your NAICS code? Contact your nearest OSHA or State Plan office, or go to naics.com/search/ and search by keyword.

No matter an establishment’s size or industry, OSHA requires employers to report worker fatalities, inpatient hospitalizations, amputations or losses of an eye – also known as reportable injuries – as outlined under 1904.39.

“People aren’t always familiar with that,” said Sarah Rothrock, project coordinator and safety specialist at Lancaster Safety Consulting in Wexford, PA. “They think, ‘If I don’t have to record [injuries or illnesses on an OSHA log], then I don’t have to report.’ According to the standard, all employers under OSHA jurisdiction must inform OSHA of any reportable incidents, even employers who are exempt from routinely maintaining OSHA recordkeeping forms.”

Also, under 1904.42, the Bureau of Labor Statistics can request injury and illness records from partially exempt employers, typically for its Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. Gizzi said BLS usually selects employers at random and asks them to submit information on a year or two.

OSHA, under 1904.41, can ask employers – including partially exempt ones – to send injury and illness information upon request.

COVID-19 recordkeeping

OSHA has issued two memos on COVID-19, which it considers a recordable illness, with the most recent published May 19. That memo includes a three-part test to determine whether a case is recordable.

First, the case is confirmed as COVID-19 under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition. Second, the case is work-related as defined under 1904.5 of the OSHA Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness Standard (1904) and, finally, if the case meets the general recording criteria as outlined under 1904.7.

That criteria includes cases involving death, days away from work, restricted work or job transfer, medical treatment “beyond first aid,” loss of consciousness, or a significant illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional.

Any work-related COVID-19 deaths or hospitalizations must be reported to the nearest OSHA office, OSHA’s 24-hour hotline – (800) 321-6742 – or online at osha.gov/pls/ser/serform.html. The agency acknowledges that determining whether a COVID-19 case is work-related could prove difficult, so it “is exercising enforcement discretion to assess employers’ efforts in making work-related determinations.”

According to OSHA, the criteria for inspectors in determining employer efforts include the “reasonableness” of the investigation into work-relatedness. This includes asking an employee how he or she believes the illness was contracted, discussing any work or out-of-work activities that may have led to the illness, and a review of an employee’s work environment for potential exposure.

OSHA advises its inspectors to consider the evidence available to an employer and evidence that COVID-19 was contracted at work, such as a cluster of cases among workers.

“If, after the reasonable and good faith inquiry described above, the employer cannot determine whether it is more likely than not that exposure in the workplace played a causal role with respect to a particular case of COVID-19, the employer does not need to record that COVID-19 illness,” the memo states. “In all events, it is important as a matter of worker health and safety, as well as public health, for an employer to examine COVID-19 cases among workers and respond appropriately to protect workers, regardless of whether a case is ultimately determined to be work-related.”

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