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On Safety: COVID-19 and OSHA recordkeeping

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

OSHA has stated that it doesn’t consider COVID-19 a “significant diagnosed injury or illness” under its current definition.

With COVID-19, the most difficult of the three criteria to determine is work-relatedness because COVID-19 is, as the regulation states, “a contagious disease that affects the public at large … and the workplace is one possible source of the infection.” With community spread factored in, it can be difficult for an employer to determine whether the illness was acquired in the workplace. If an employee is infected and hospitalized, or if the infected worker dies, how does one determine if the fatality or hospitalization is work-related? The regulation states:

“In these situations, the employer must examine the employee’s work duties and environment to determine whether it is more likely than not that one or more events or exposures at work caused or contributed to the condition. If the employer determines that it is unlikely that the precipitating event or exposure occurred in the work environment, the employer would not record the case.”

Some basic steps are needed to make this determination.

First, one needs to be aware of the OSHA reporting requirements. If a death is involved, it has to be reported to OSHA within eight hours. If one or more employees are hospitalized, OSHA must be notified within 24 hours. In either case, it’s unlikely the employer would know if it’s work-related. My advice is to report and record it anyway, and let OSHA know what happened and that you’re investigating to determine the work-relatedness of it.

Second, a fatality resulting from a work-related case of COVID-19 is reportable if it occurs within 30 days of the exposure to the virus in the workplace.

OSHA does understand that with COVID-19 the work-relatedness issue can be difficult to determine. The agency would expect an employer to conduct a reasonable assessment and make a “most likely” determination on the issue. This means assess, evaluate and document the steps you took. Don’t make a quick determination without doing an assessment that the case is or isn’t work-related – it’s very unlikely OSHA would accept that.

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