For the record
Breaking down OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements
- Many industries and small businesses are not required to record injuries and illnesses.
- Employers required to keep and maintain records must fill out three OSHA forms: 300, 300A and 301.
- In certain cases, employers must maintain the privacy of the injured or ill worker's identity when filling out OSHA forms.
Keeping workers safe on the job cannot be accomplished solely through appropriate training and inspections – accurate recordkeeping also plays a role. Knowing how many, where and what type of injuries have occurred can help employers create a safer work environment.
"It’s great for employers who are required to maintain an accurate record of their experiences," said Jim Stanley, former OSHA assistant administrator and current president of FDRsafety, a Franklin, TN-based consulting firm. "It’s an indicator of where they’ve been and where they’re going to go if they don’t do something about it."
As Stanley alluded to, many companies are required by law to keep and maintain workplace injury and illness records. OSHA’s Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Standard (1904) outlines those requirements, including what injuries or illnesses should be recorded.
However, following the standard is not as easy as it may seem. "It’s very hard to maintain OSHA records accurately, and that’s due in part because the standard has so many nuances and it’s difficult to understand," said Bill Taylor, a recordkeeping expert and principal safety scientist at Marshville, NC-based consulting firm EI Group.
Taylor said people’s misunderstanding of the standard’s requirements can lead to underreporting of injuries. Such underreporting may paint an inaccurate picture of safety, which can result in OSHA citations.
Safety+Health presents a brief overview of the requirements of the recordkeeping standard, common mistakes employers make, and other useful tips to remember when attempting to maintain accurate OSHA-required records.
Am I exempt?
Most employers are not required by law to keep injury and illness records. Exemptions from recordkeeping include:
- Ten or fewer people employed during the year. Employers must add up the total number of employees during the year – including full-time, part-time and seasonal employees. If that number totals more than 10 at any point during the year, the employer must keep injury and illness records.
- Certain industries, including hardware stores; funeral service and crematories; new and used car dealers;child day care services; liquor stores; and radio, television and computer stores, among many others.
However, exempted employers must keep records if asked to do so by OSHA or the Bureau of Labor Statistics.Determining work-relatedness
A major hurdle employers face in determining whether an injury or illness should be recorded is ascertaining whether the injury occurred on the job. A general rule of thumb, according to Taylor, is that if the injury or illness occurred in the work environment, it is recordable.
That tip comes with several big asterisks, however. Exceptions exist when the injury or illness did not receive any medical treatment beyond first aid, even if the employee was taken to a hospital.
“The hospital is irrelevant. You could go to a hospital and receive first aid treatment,” Taylor said, meaning the injury would not be required to be recorded.
The medical treatment aspect also has exceptions. For example, if an employee is injured, falls down and loses consciousness, and then wakes up and requires no additional medical treatment, it is still recordable because it meets the recording requirements (loss of consciousness – see “Recording criteria” flowchart, below).
Another example is the death of an employee in a commercial airline crash when traveling for work. Even though it did not occur at the worksite, the death is recordable (but OSHA would not require it to be reported in this particular situation).
Employers also should be aware that an injury can be recordable but not deemed compensable in the workers’ compensation system. The two are completely separate issues, Taylor warned.
Recording and reporting
In addition to recording, some injuries or illnesses must be directly reported – either orally or in person – to OSHA within eight hours of the incident, including deaths or hospitalizations of three or more employees. This requirement extends to all employers covered by OSHA, even those in industries normally exempt from keeping records or those with fewer than 10 employees.
Employers should report any such incidents to OSHA at (800) 321-OSHA.
Current and former employees and authorized employee representatives can gain access to an employer’s 300 log, making privacy an issue. Although an injured or ill employee’s name will appear on the log in most cases, certain situations arise in which employers should leave the name off. “You must use discretion to conceal the identity of the worker,” Taylor said.
According to OSHA, an employee’s name should not be listed on the log in the following circumstances:
- Injury and illness to intimate body parts
- Injury or illness due to a sexual assault
- Mental illness
- Infection of HIV, hepatitis or tuberculosis
- Needlestick injuries or cuts from sharp objects contaminated with bodily fluid
- Any illness in which an employee requests his or her name not to be entered on the log
Any illness in which an employee requests his or her name not to be entered on the log
In lieu of listing the employee’s name, OSHA recommends entering “privacy case.” Additionally, the agency requires employers to keep a separate, confidential list of all privacy concern cases with the case numbers and employee names.
Classifying injuries and illnesses
When filling out recordkeeping forms, employers must classify each injury or illness case. Two classifications that may cause confusion are:
Days away from work – When an injury or illness leads to an employee taking time off work. OSHA has some key points about this requirement:
- The day of the injury does not count as a day away from work.
- If a physician recommends that the employee stay home from work, employers must follow that recommendation and record it as a day away, even if the employee wishes to return to work.
- The employer must count all calendar days the employee is unable to work, regardless of whether the employee was scheduled to work on those days.
- When the injury or illness has resulted in 180 calendar days away from work, the employer should stop counting.
- An employee’s injury that carries over from one year to the next should be recorded in the year the injury occurred. If the employee is still out of work by Feb. 1 – when the injury and illness summary is required to be posted – OSHA said employers may either list the number of days the employee has been out or estimate the number of days the employee is expected to be out. The log entry should be updated when the total number of days is known or the 180-day cap is reached.
Job restriction or transfer – When an injury or illness leads to either a doctor recommending or an employer choosing to keep an employee from performing one or more routine job functions, or the employee does not work a full day.
This rule applies regardless of what work the employee chooses to do or is capable of doing. For example, if a doctor orders a worker to be on light duty but the worker still is able to fulfill all of his or her job obligations and routine functions, OSHA considers the injury recordable as restricted duty based on the doctor’s orders. "Most employers don’t count that as a restricted duty case, but by law it is," Stanley said.
The other two classifications are workplace death and “other recordable cases,” which are injuries or illnesses that do not fall under the Days Away, Restrictions and Transfers category but still must be recorded (see "Recording criteria" flowchart, above).
Taylor called underreporting the most common mistake employers make, and offered several reasons why it may occur:
- Poor training or lack of knowledge.
- Management may pressure employees not to record injuries and illnesses to achieve lower rates.
- Doctors may lack full knowledge of recording criteria. For example, a doctor may determine that a worker’s torn ligament, which occurred while walking down the hall, is not work-related; however, certain circumstances could make the injury recordable.
The summary form must be placed in an area where workers are likely to see it; employers cannot hide it, block it with other notices or hang it in a location some employees cannot access.
“Sometimes I’ll see one where it’s posted in the nurse’s office. Well, all employees don’t go to the nurse’s office. You want to make sure it’s where employees can see it, like by the time clock,” Taylor said.
If a doctor writes a prescription for an injured employee, it does not matter if the employee ever picks up the medication or uses it – the prescription pushes the medical treatment beyond first aid, according to Stanley.
"That is a recordable case, even though you’ve never used [the medication], because the doctor prescribed it," he said.
OSHA maintains a website on recordkeeping that covers the agency’s requirements and exceptions to the rules in greater detail.