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On Safety: COVID-19 and OSHA recordkeeping

Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The agency has provided some guidance. In most cases, to determine work-relatedness, it’ll be sufficient to:

  • Ask the employee how they believe they contracted the virus.
  • Discuss with the employee their work and out-of-work activities that may have led to the illness.
  • Review the employee’s work environment or potential exposure(s), which should be informed by any other instances of workers in that environment contracting COVID-19.

Note: If the evidence considered by the employer at the time of making the work-relationship determination changes, the determination can change.

OSHA states that COVID-19 illnesses “are likely work-related” if:

  • Several cases develop among workers who work closely together and “there is no alternative explanation.”
  • The illness is contracted shortly after lengthy and close exposure to a particular customer or co-worker who is confirmed to have COVID-19 and “there is no alternative explanation.”
  • Job duties include having frequent, close exposure to the general public in a locality with ongoing community transmission and “there is no alternative explanation.”

For determining if a case is “not work-related,” OSHA guidance says:

  • Only one worker in a general vicinity in the workplace contracts COVID-19.
  • Job duties don’t include having frequent contact with the general public, regardless of the rate of community spread.
  • Outside the workplace, the infected employee associates closely and frequently with a non-co-worker (family member, significant other or close friend) who has COVID-19.

Additional information for making the work-relatedness determination includes:

  • State and local health department data on the COVID-19 incident rate in the community
  • Percent of employees vaccinated
  • Any previous COVID-19-related cases
  • Examine and evaluate the controls that are in place, and determine if they’re being followed
  • Employee interviews (Note: Interviews must avoid medical-related questions) One can ask:
    • About the employee’s recent history outside of work: events, parties, shows, concerts they might have attended (can couple this information with the community transmission rate)
    • The employee if they’ve been around anyone confirmed to have COVID-19 or who is unvaccinated
    • About the employee’s vaccination status
    • If the employee’s co-workers are vaccinated

Next, determine whether any incidents or clusters have been identified. Did the employee work around anyone with COVID-19? Then, based on employee history, look at work history and community history, and then make a reasonable conclusion whether the employee illness or death is work-related. Finally, document, document, document.

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