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030: Is that Workplace Safety Injury/Illness Work-related or Not?

The SafetyPro Podcast

Release Date: 01/23/2018

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OSHA Recordkeeping

As we know, the language of the OSH Act limits the recording requirements to injuries or illnesses that are "work-related." The Act uses but does not define, this term.

OSHA has interpreted the Act to mean that injuries and illnesses are work-related if events or exposures at work either caused or contributed to the problem. Work-related injuries or illnesses may (1) occur at the employer's premises, or (2) occur off the employer's premises when the employee was engaged in a work activity or was present as a condition of employment.

What most people would read under paragraph 1904.5(b)(1), is the "work environment" means "the establishment and other locations where one or more employees are working or are present as a condition of their employment. The work environment includes not only physical locations but also equipment or materials used by the employee during his or her work."

Work-relatedness is presumed for injuries and illnesses resulting from events or exposures occurring in the work environment. Mainly, there must be a causal connection between the employment and the injury or illness before the case is recordable. There are some exceptions. These exceptions help us to better understand what WOULD be recordable. So let’s go thru the exceptions:

Injuries or illnesses will not be considered work-related if they involve symptoms that surface at work but result solely from a non-work-related event or exposure that occurs outside the work environment. OSHA's recordkeeping system is intended only to capture cases that are caused by conditions or exposures arising in the work environment. It is not designed to capture cases that have no relationship with the work environment.

For this exception to apply, the work environment cannot have caused, contributed to, or significantly aggravated the injury or illness. 

An example of this type of injury would be a diabetic incident that occurs while an employee is working. Because no event or exposure at work contributed in any way to the diabetic episode, the case is not recordable. This exception allows the employer to exclude cases where an employee's non-work activities are the sole cause of the injury or illness. The exception was included in the proposal, and OSHA received no comments opposing its adoption.

Injuries and illnesses will not be considered work-related if they result solely from voluntary participation in a wellness program or in a medical, fitness, or recreational activity such as blood donation, physical, flu shot, exercise classes, racquetball, or baseball. This exception allows the employer to exclude certain injury or illness cases that are related to personal medical care, physical fitness activities, and voluntary blood donations. The were here are "solely" and "voluntary."

The work environment cannot have contributed to the injury or illness in any way for this exception to apply, and participation in the wellness, fitness or recreational activities must be voluntary and not a condition of employment.

This exception allows the employer to exclude cases that are related to personal matters of exercise, recreation, medical examinations or participation in blood donation programs when they are voluntary and are not being undertaken as a condition of work.

For example, if a clerical worker were injured while performing aerobics in the company gymnasium during his or her lunch hour, the case would not be work-related. On the other hand, if an employee who was assigned to manage the gymnasium was injured while teaching an aerobics class, the injury would be work-related because the employee was working at the time of the injury and the activity was not voluntary.

Similarly, if an employee suffered a severe reaction to a flu shot administered as part of a voluntary inoculation program, the case would not be considered work-related. However, if an employee suffered a reaction to medications administered to enable the employee to travel overseas on business, or the employee had an illness reaction to a drug administered to treat a work-related injury, the case would be considered work-related.

Injuries and illnesses will not be considered work-related if they are solely the result of an employee eating, drinking, or preparing food or drink for personal consumption (whether bought on the premises or brought in). OSHA has gotten many letters asking for interpretations on this very topic. So they addressed it in this exception.

An example of the application of this exception would be a case where the employee injured himself or herself by choking on a sandwich brought from home but eaten in the employer's establishment; such a case would not be considered work-related under this exception.

On the other hand, if a trip/fall hazard injured the employee in the employer's lunchroom, the case would be considered work-related.

In addition, a note to the exception makes clear that if an employee becomes ill as a result of ingesting food contaminated by workplace contaminants such as lead, or contracts food poisoning from food items provided by the employer, the case would be considered work-related.

Another wrinkle here worth noting is if an employee contracts food poisoning from a sandwich brought from home or purchased in the company cafeteria and must take time off to recover, the case is not considered work-related. 

On the other hand, if an employee contracts food poisoning from a meal provided by the employer at a business meeting or company function and takes time off to recover, the case would be considered work-related. Food provided or supplied by the employer does not include food purchased by the employee from the company cafeteria but does include food purchased by the employer from the company cafeteria for business meetings or other company functions.

So the test is whether the employer is providing food for a work-event or not.

Injuries and illnesses will not be considered work-related if they are solely the result of employees doing personal tasks (unrelated to their employment) at the establishment outside of their assigned working hours. This exception allows employers limited flexibility to exclude from the recordkeeping system situations where the employee is using the employer's establishment for purely personal reasons during his or her off-shift time.

For example, if an employee were using a meeting room at the employer's establishment outside of his or her assigned working hours to hold a meeting for a civic group to which he or she belonged, and slipped and fell in the hallway, the injury would not be considered work-related.

On the other hand, if the employee were at the employer's establishment outside his or her assigned working hours to attend a company business meeting or a company training session, such a slip or fall would be work-related.

Injuries and illnesses will not be considered work-related if they are solely the result of personal grooming, self-medication for a non-work-related condition, or are intentionally self-inflicted. This exception allows the employer to exclude from the Log cases related to personal hygiene, self-administered medications and intentional self-inflicted injuries, such as attempted suicide.

For example, a burn injury from a an adverse used at work to dry the employee's hair would not be work-related. Similarly, a negative reaction to a medication brought from home to treat a non-work condition would not be considered a work-related illness, even though it first manifested at work.

Injuries will not be considered work-related if they are caused by motor vehicle accidents occurring in company parking lots or on company access roads while employees are commuting to or from work. This exception allows the employer to exclude cases where an employee is injured in a motor vehicle accident while commuting from work to home or from home to work or while on a personal errand.

For example, if an employee was injured in a car accident while arriving at work or while leaving the company's property at the end of the day, or while driving on his or her lunch hour to run an errand, the case would not be considered work-related.

On the other hand, if an employee were injured in a car accident while leaving the property to purchase supplies for the employer, the case would be work-related. This exception represents a change from the position taken under the older record keeping rule, which was that no injury or illness occurring in a company parking lot was considered work-related.

So, OSHA has concluded that some injuries and illnesses that occur in company parking lots are clearly caused by work conditions or activities e.g., being struck by a car while repairing asphalt, slipping on ice permitted to accumulate in the lot – and by their nature point to conditions that could be corrected to improve workplace safety and health.

Common colds and flu will not be considered work-related.

OSHA allows the employer to exclude cases of common cold or flu, even if contracted while the employee was at work.

However, in the case of other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, and hepatitis C, employers must evaluate reports of such illnesses for work relationship, just as they would any other type of injury or illness.

Please listen to the full episode as I explain some more OSHA Q & A’s on this topic. Please leave your comments or questions! Let me know what you think. Send an email to info@thesafetypropodcast.com and share with me your thoughts about OSHA recordkeeping.

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