Set goals and prevent work-related injuries and illnesses.
By Joan Shirkian-Hesselton
Looking for ways to improve safety, reduce employee work-related injuries and illnesses and improve your bottom line? One often-overlooked area is a thorough safety documentation and recordkeeping program.
A safety recordkeeping program will help you set goals, measure progress, pinpoint areas needing attention, and identify areas that were successful in preventing work-related injuries and illnesses. A good measurement system for work-related accidents and illnesses requires consistent guidelines to ensure that today’s scale is the same as that used in the past and in the future, and to ensure everyone using the system is counting the same type of incident the same way.
Using the data
When comparing data across company or even industry lines, it is difficult to identify which criteria to use and how to ensure equity is built into the measuring system. The litmus test comes when determining whether the criteria presents itself in a way that results in the same conclusion regarding how like situations will be recorded across the board. This is the first step in providing a uniform and accurate system to ensure the consistency and validity of the statistical data regarding workplace injuries and illnesses.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) and the recordkeeping regulations in 29 CFR 1904 and 1952 provide specific recording and reporting requirements. Employers are required to prepare and maintain records of occupational injuries and illnesses. In Canada, each province has its own applicable recordkeeping standards, but we will discuss U.S. OSHA regulations as a model from which individual plants may develop their own safety programs.
The statistical data collected from the occupational injuries and illnesses recordkeeping is used by OSHA for many purposes such as inspection targeting, performance measurement under the Government Performance and Results Act, standards development, resource allocation, Voluntary Protection Program eligibility, and “low-hazard” industry exemptions. The data also aid employers, employees and compliance officers in analyzing the employer’s safety and health environment and is the source of information for the OSHA Data Initiative and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Annual Survey.
As noted earlier, employers can and should use this information to help identify areas in their safety programs that may need additional attention and to help measure the progress of their efforts to reduce employee incidents.
For years, employers had been asking for more current recording criteria. Since 1978, the reporting criteria remained stagnant with no revisions until January 2001, when OSHA issued a final rule revising the § 1904 and § 1952 Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements (recordkeeping) regulations.
OSHA has published complete details regarding the revised recordkeeping rules on its website. It has numerous letters of interpretation addressing questions submitted by various employers to help clarify areas that could be confusing. As additional questions are raised, new letters of interpretation continue to be added. Therefore the website should be visited frequently, especially if questions arise regarding recording criteria for a specific issue.
What to record
The basic recording requirement can be found in Section 1904.7(a). An injury or illness is recordable if it results in any of the following consequences: death; days away from work; restricted work or transfer to another job; medical treatment beyond first aid; and loss of consciousness. You must also consider a case to meet the general recording criteria if it involves a significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional, even if it does not result in these consequences.
The section then explains the listed terms in detail and provides scenarios to help employers make consistent recording determinations.
There are a couple of recordkeeping exemptions in the regulations. One is based on the size of the employer’s workforce. To qualify for this exemption, the employer must employee 10 or fewer employees throughout the year. The employee count includes all full time, part time, temporary and seasonal employees. For businesses that are sole proprietorships or partnerships, the owners and partners are not considered employees and are not counted. However, in a corporation, corporate officers who receive payment for their services are considered employees and therefore are included in the count. It is important to know that the size exemption is based on the total number of employees in the company, rather than the number of employees at any particular location or establishment. The rationale behind this is based on the belief that the resources available in a given business depend on the size of the company as a whole, not on the size of individual establishments owned by the company.
The other recordkeeping exemption is for low-hazard industries and business establishments classified in retail, services, finance, insurance or real estate industries. Agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation, communication, electric, gas and sanitary services, or wholesale trade are not eligible for the partial-industry classification exemption. Therefore, precast employers and erectors do not qualify for the recordkeeping requirement exemption (Section 1904.2).
OSHA provides forms for recording injuries and illnesses for each incident. These are the OSHA 300, 300-A and 301 forms. The OSHA 300 form is called the Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses; the 300-A is the Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses; and the 301 is called the Injury and Illness Incident Report.
An OSHA 301 Incident Report form, or an equivalent form, needs to be completed for each recordable injury or illness entered on the OSHA 300 Log. The employer must enter each recordable injury or illness on the OSHA 300 Log and 301 Incident Report within seven calendar days of receiving information that a recordable injury or illness has occurred. A computer may be used to record the required information as long as it can produce equivalent forms when needed.
At the end of the calendar year the employer must review the OSHA 300 log, correct any deficiencies and use the corrected information to complete the OSHA 300-A summary. The summary must be certified by a company executive and posted from Feb. 1 to April 30 of the following year. (1904.32(b)(3)) (1904.32(b)(6)).
Section 1904.29, titled “Forms,” establishes the requirements for the forms (OSHA 300 Log, OSHA 300A Annual Summary, and OSHA 301 Incident Report) an employer must use to keep OSHA Part 1904 injury and illness records, the time limit for recording an injury or illness case, the use of substitute forms, the use of computer equipment to keep the records, and privacy protections for certain information recorded on the OSHA 300 Log.
The employer provides information to the Bureau of Labor Statistics only if it is requested. The same is true for providing general incident and illnesses information to an OSHA inspector. However, within eight hours after the death of any employee from a work-related incident or the in-patient hospitalization of three or more employees as a result of a work-related incident, you must orally report the fatality/multiple hospitalization by telephone or in person to the Area Office of the OSHA office nearest to the site of the incident. This can also be done by calling OSHA’s toll-free number at (800) 321-OSHA (6742). Complete details and exceptions can be found in the regulation 1904.39 & 1904.40.
Another critical area that raises many questions deals with determining whether an injury or illness is work related and therefore needs to be recorded. Section 1904.5 covers the details on the determination of work relatedness and when to record incidents. It starts by stating the basic requirement:
You must consider an injury or illness to be work related if an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition, or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness. Work relatedness is presumed for injuries and illnesses resulting from events or exposures occurring in the work environment, unless an exception in Section 1904.5(b)(2) specifically applies.
This is followed by details and examples to assist employers in establishing consistency when determining what is and is not considered work-related, the work environment, pre-existing and significantly aggravated along with a number of other terms that could have different interpretations for different individuals.
Workers comp and injuries/illnesses
How do workers’ compensation and OSHA injury and illness recording relate to each other? Surprisingly, they don’t. It is best to think of these completely separate from one another. There are incidents that get recorded for OSHA purposes that have nothing to do with workers’ compensation. Likewise, there are workers’ compensation claims that do not meet the OSHA recording criteria. Therefore, it is best to handle both processes and paperwork separately.
Employers often question when they are required to record injuries that result from an employee performing a personal task in the work environment. Under Section 1904.5(b)(2)(v), an injury or illness is not work-related if it is solely the result of an employee doing personal tasks unrelated to the job at the work establishment and the task is being performed outside of the employee’s assigned working hours. Therefore, in order for this exception to apply, the case must meet both of the stated conditions. The exception does not apply if the injury or illness occurred within normal working hours even if the employee was performing a personal task. There is an exception for injuries or illnesses resulting from personal grooming, eating, drinking or preparing food or drink for personal consumption. Injuries or illnesses from these activities, even if they occur during normal working hours, are not recordable.
Another confusing area involves employer parking lots and sidewalks. Company parking lots and sidewalks are considered part of the employer’s establishment only for certain recordkeeping purposes. If an employee slips on an icy sidewalk while walking to the office to report for work and has an injury that meets recording criteria, even though he/she hasn’t clocked in, the incident is recordable. However, if the injury or illness is caused by a motor vehicle accident and occurs on a company parking lot or company access road while the employee is commuting to or from work, it is not considered recordable even if it meets all the qualifying criteria.
What if a “leased” or “temporary” employee has a recordable injury or illness? Where is the incident recorded? The determination is made according to which company supervises the employee on a day-to-day basis. If the employee is supervised on a day-to-day basis by the using firm, the incident is recorded on its log. If, however, the employee is supervised on a day-to-day basis by the temporary staffing agency, any qualifying injuries or illnesses go on the temporary staffing agency’s OSHA records (see Section 1904.31, Covered Employees). Under the OSH Act, unpaid volunteers are not considered employees and any qualifying injuries and illnesses would not be recorded.
Day away and restricted duty or job transfer day incidents are recorded and the days are counted as calendar days (not just work days). The days are counted until the treating healthcare practitioner releases the employee back to his/her normal duties or the count reaches 180. The count continues until one of the above conditions is met even if the employee does not adhere to the healthcare practitioner’s orders (however, allowing an employee to ignore the healthcare provider’s instructions is never a good idea).
While there is a lot that goes into determining whether an incident is work-related, OSHA maintains that since the employer generally knows the work site and the employee’s work tasks better than the treating healthcare provider, the determination of work relatedness ultimately rests with the employer. The treating medical professionals can and often should provide input, but the employer is responsible for making the final decision.
The OSHA website provides numerous examples and scenarios exemplifying many complex situations discussing how to properly classify and record each injury or illness. The site also provides additional resources if the employer has questions concerning an injury or illness and how it should be recorded.
Unfortunately employers and employees often perceive the injury and illness recordkeeping process as a negative experience. This can result in employers missing out on the potential benefits they can gain from analyzing and utilizing the data generated from the system. The data and statistics can and should be used to identify trends and to measure improvement. Where there are multiple locations, comparisons can be made and exemplary locations can be used to mentor sites that haven’t been able to meet their target goals. While the ultimate goal is zero accidents and injuries, if they do happen it is essential that information is obtained from the recorded incidents and utilized to better the safety program.
Joan Shirikian-Hesselton is an independent Occupational Safety and Health consultant. She has more than 30 years of experience in Occupational Safety and Health in both the public and private sectors, including a decade of dedicated experience in the precast/prestressed concrete industry. She is a past NPCA Safety, Health & Environmental Committee chair, and she has worked with U.S. OSHA as a Special Government Employee.
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