Injury and illness recordkeeping

A look at the basics – and common sources of confusion

September 27, 2020

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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OSHA forms

OSHA has three forms for recording injuries and illnesses: Form 300, 300A and 301. Form 300 is an annual log of work-related injuries and illnesses, and each entry must have a corresponding Form 301 report. Employers must record injuries and illnesses on the forms within seven calendar days of learning that they occurred.

Form 300A is a yearly summary of work-related injuries and illnesses. Employers must post a copy of this form “in a conspicuous place or places where notices to employees are customarily posted” by Feb. 1 of the following year (Feb. 1, 2021, for 2020 Form 300A, for example). That copy must remain posted until at least April 30.

Some establishments are required to send 300A information to OSHA electronically by March 2 of the following year. These include establishments with 250 or more employees as well as those with 20 to 249 employees in certain “high-hazard” industries.

What is a ‘recordable’?

Determining which injuries and illnesses are considered recordable, or ones that employers should enter on an OSHA log, can be another source of confusion.

Rothrock said some employers might think any injury or illness involving a workers’ compensation claim should be logged, but that’s not always the case.

According to OSHA, recordable injuries and illnesses are those that are work-related and result in death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job (e.g., light duty), medical treatment “beyond first aid,” or loss of consciousness. Also required to be logged: any “significant” injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional – even if it doesn’t result in any of the above outcomes.

As examples, OSHA refers to work-related cases of cancer, fractured or cracked bones, and punctured eardrums under 1904.7(b)(7). Also, employers must record the following conditions if they are work-related:

  • Needlestick injuries or a cut from a sharp object that is contaminated with another person’s blood or other potentially infectious material
  • Any case requiring the medical removal of an employee under an OSHA standard (e.g., lead, cadmium and benzene standards)
  • A tuberculosis infection diagnosed by a physician or licensed health care professional or via a positive skin test
  • An employee hearing test or audiogram that reveals a “standard threshold shift” in one or both ears

OSHA provides its definition of types of “first aid” under 1904.7(b)(5)(ii). These include the use of nonprescription or nonprescription-strength medicine and the use of wound coverings such as bandages.

Rothrock recommends that employers print out or electronically bookmark OSHA’s definitions of first aid as a reference guide.

It can be challenging when determining if an incident is considered to be work-related, since it can be based on a variety of factors of the work environment.

Sarah Rothrock
Project coordinator and safety specialist
Lancaster Safety Consulting

Work-relatedness and record retention

Understanding what is “work-related” can prove to be one of the more confounding topics, in large part because of, again, the number of possible scenarios.

Under 1904.5(b)(2), the OSHA standard has a table that features some general scenarios when an injury or illness is not considered work-related. An example is one that occurs “solely” because of an employee’s “personal task” at an establishment, unrelated to employment and outside of assigned work hours (e.g., a post-shift smoke break).

“It can be challenging when determining if an incident is considered to be work-related, since it can be based on a variety of factors of the work environment,” Rothrock said.

Gizzi and Rothrock highlighted one resource on OSHA’s website: a repository of Q&As. By typing in the key words “parking lot,” the website yields the following result, among others, from the agency’s e-correspondence:

Q: An employee parked his vehicle in a shared parking lot prior to coming to work (not a “company parking lot”). As he exited his vehicle, he tripped and was injured. Is this injury work-related?

A: No, this injury is not work-related. A parking area where the employer does not have control (such as a parking lot outside of a building shared by different employers, or a public parking area like those found at a mall or beneath a multiemployer office building) would not be considered part of the employer’s establishment, and therefore not part of the work environment.

Another area where organizations can go wrong, Tilton said, is not understanding OSHA’s requirement to retain injury and illness records for five years.

“It happens more than you think,” he said. “It’s something that happens to the biggest and the best (organizations).”

Employers also need to update past OSHA 300 logs during that five-year period if, for example, an employee’s time away from work goes from one year to the next. In this case, OSHA requires a company to record the injury or illness only once, so it would go on the prior year’s log. OSHA allows employers to cap the days away from work at 180 calendar days, under 1904.7(b)(3)(vii).

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Where to find help

Looking for help? One place to start is the OSHA website, experts say.

“I think [OSHA knows] that recordkeeping can be confusing for a lot of people, so they do have a lot of re-sources available for it,” Gizzi said.

Tilton added that you can call your nearest OSHA or State Plan office and ask to speak with a compliance assistance specialist. Be patient, he advised, because an office may have only one. You might have to schedule an appointment, but the service is free.

Admittedly, it’s not a popular suggestion for some employers, but Tilton recommends employers hire a dedicated staff member to oversee their recordkeeping and other aspects of organizational safety, if they don’t already have such a person.

He said employers can spend money on the front end or hundreds of dollars an hour on lawyers and possibly a couple hundred thousand dollars or more, on top of that, for a workplace injury or illness.

“I will always ask a client to spend the money to bring someone in house, who is a part of the company, who is wearing the (company) shirts, driving their trucks, and seeing these men and women every morning for coffee,” Tilton said. “I always love an in-house person. It’s probably a whole lot more expensive. It’s an extra salary, but it really can make a difference.”

Gizzi highlighted that insurance brokers often have safety professionals on staff to help; Assurance has 24. Also, a number of third-party consultants are available to help employers navigate through proper recordkeeping.

The benefits of recordkeeping (even if it’s not required)

Experts recommend getting in the habit of keeping records and documenting injuries or illnesses even if your establishment isn’t required to do so.

That habit can play a part in strengthening incident investigations, which includes taking photographs, getting statements from witnesses and examining root causes.

These actions allow employers to spot trends. For example, if injuries or near misses are occurring at certain times and/or locations in a facility. Employers also can use the photos and incident reports as training tools, Tilton said.

When it comes to safety training, recordkeeping is likely not front of mind compared with subjects such as fall protection, powered industrial trucks, ladders and scaffolding.

Tilton said training on recordkeeping is needed for anyone who is tasked with filling out OSHA forms or asked to help fill them out.

“I think it’s training that’s overlooked,” he said. “OSHA 300 logs don’t save lives; scaffold training does. In defense of my employers, they overlook [recordkeeping] a lot and focus on hazards.

“Somebody in the office needs to be responsible for record retention, and that individual needs to be an OSHA 1904 expert who can then teach (others).”

Another key step is ensuring workers report injuries and incidents.

Tilton said a company in Tampa, FL, has put up signs around its facility in English and Spanish informing workers that they can’t be punished for reporting injuries.

“Does that change culture overnight?” Tilton asked. “No, but it does help.”