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Voice of Experience: Clearing Up Confusion About OSHA Record-Keeping Requirements

Those of us in the industry tasked with record-keeping sometimes struggle with all of the different reporting scenarios. OSHA 29 CFR 1904, “Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness,” gives us guidelines, but even the most thorough research of compliance requirements can still lead to questions and confusion.

For example, workers’ compensation cases may not be recordable as OSHA cases due to exceptions in the agency’s record-keeping rules. Workers’ compensation is mandated by each state, while OSHA 1904 is a federal record-keeping standard.

Further, OSHA’s record-keeping standard was updated in 2002, at which time many changes were made, including some that made the standard easier to understand but others that made it more difficult. Additional changes were made effective January 1, 2015. While basic reporting has essentially remained the same over the years, it’s important to be aware of the 2015 change found at 1904.39(a)(2), which states, “Within twenty-four (24) hours after the in-patient hospitalization of one or more employees or an employee’s amputation or an employee’s loss of an eye, as a result of a work-related incident, you must report the in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye to OSHA.” These requirements were added to provide OSHA insight on less serious injuries in certain industries that typically have a higher incident/DART rate.

Illness, Injury and Work-Relatedness
Some sources of confusion with OSHA record-keeping requirements can be found in 1904.4(a), “Basic requirement,” which states, “Each employer required by this part to keep records of fatalities, injuries, and illnesses must record each fatality, injury and illness that (1) is work-related; and (2) is a new case; and (3) meets one or more of the general recording criteria of §1904.7 or the application to specific cases of §§1904.8 through 1904.12.”

Employers sometimes struggle with determining what constitutes an injury or illness, as well as what defines “work-related.” OSHA has defined injury and illness in 1904.46(3), as follows: “An injury or illness is an abnormal condition or disorder. Injuries include cases such as, but not limited to, a cut, fracture, sprain, or amputation. Illnesses include both acute and chronic illnesses, such as, but not limited to, a skin disease, respiratory disorder, or poisoning. …” According to paragraph 1904.5(a), “… Work-relatedness is presumed for injuries and illnesses resulting from events or exposures occurring in the work environment, unless an exception in §1904.5(b)(2) specifically applies.”

In addition to the definition of work-relatedness found in the rule, OSHA stated in a 2016 letter of interpretation that a “case is presumed work-related if, and only if, an event or exposure in the work environment is a discernible cause of the injury or illness or of a significant aggravation to a pre-existing condition” (see That’s a good explanation, but what exactly does “discernible cause” mean? Key phrases sometimes are not understood when reviewing compliance requirements. The term “discernible cause” indicates an acute or chronic exposure directly causing a medical condition, but it must occur during the course of the affected employee’s work, during normal assigned working hours, or as a result of the affected employee representing the interest of the employer.

Once the employer has made a determination of work-relatedness, the next challenge is to identify if the event caused an aggravation of a pre-existing condition. According to OSHA 1904.5(b)(4), a pre-existing injury or illness has been significantly aggravated when a work event or exposure results in any of the following that otherwise would not have occurred but for the occupational event or exposure: death; loss of consciousness; one or more days away from work, days restricted or days of job transfer; or medical treatment. 

At this point it should not surprise you that there sometimes is confusion about what defines medical treatment, but OSHA has covered that via rule 1904.7(b)(5)(i), which states that medical treatment is “the management and care of a patient to combat disease or disorder.” Medical treatment must be recorded on the OSHA 300 log. It does not include visits to a physician or other licensed health care professional solely for observations or counseling, nor does it cover diagnostic procedures, such as X-rays and blood tests, including the administration of prescription medications used only for diagnostic purposes. Medical treatment also does not include first aid, and first aid cases are not recordable. Keep in mind that any case of loss of consciousness must be reported when it is work-related, as should significant injuries such as a punctured eardrum or a cracked bone or tooth. Work-related hearing loss also must be recorded in compliance with 1904.10, “Recording criteria for cases involving occupational hearing loss.”

Restricted Duty and Days Away from Work
Another area of record-keeping confusion arises from the topic of restricted work and days away. The employer is obligated to record cases involving days restricted or days away from work, including restricted duty required by a licensed health care provider. An employee placed on restricted duty is unable to work the full workday he or she would otherwise have been scheduled to work, or he or she is unable to perform one or more routine job functions. An employee’s routine job functions are those activities that the employee regularly performs at least once a week with no restrictions.

When documenting days restricted or days away, the employer should not include the day of injury or illness nor the day the employee was released for full duty. The employer may decide to have the employee stay home in the event of a restricted case where there is no light duty available; this must be recorded as days away. When cases of restricted duty or days away total 180, the employer may stop counting days on the OSHA log.

Record-Keeping Exceptions
It’s critical for employers to know both what needs to be reported and what is not required to be reported. Record-keeping exceptions are listed at 1904.5(b)(2). In my experience, the following exceptions typically are the most common as well as the most misunderstood:

  • An employer is not required to record injuries and illnesses if, at the time of the injury or illness, the employee was present in the work environment as a member of the general public rather than as an employee.
  • An employer is not required to record injuries and illnesses if the injury or illness involves signs or symptoms that surface at work but result solely from a non-work-related event or exposure that occurs outside the work environment.
  • An employer is not required to record injuries and illnesses if the injury or illness results solely from an employee’s voluntary participation in a wellness program or in a medical, fitness or recreational activity.
  • An employer is not required to record injuries and illnesses if the injury or illness is solely the result of eating, drinking, or preparing food or drink for personal consumption.
  • An employer is not required to record injuries and illnesses if the injury or illness is caused by a motor vehicle accident and occurs in a company parking lot or on a company access road while the employee is commuting to or from work. Other injuries that take place in the parking lot – such as slips and falls or injuries sustained in an altercation – are recordable.

Other instances when an injury or illness is not required to be recorded include when the injury or illness results from an employee doing personal tasks at the work establishment outside of working hours, or when engaging in personal grooming, taking medication for a non-work-related condition or intentionally self-inflicting harm. In addition, instances of a common cold or flu do not need to be recorded, nor does mental illness, unless an employee voluntarily provides the employer with medical documentation that indicates the employee has a work-related mental illness.    

If an employee is traveling for work, injuries and illnesses must be recorded if they occur while the employee is engaged in work activities in the interest of the employer. However, there also is an exception to this rule. If the employee experiences an injury or illness while staying in a home away from home – such as a hotel – and is not engaged in work activities, or if the employee sustains an injury or illness during a detour taken for personal reasons – such as going to a store to purchase personal items – the injury or illness is not required to be reported.  

There is far more to discuss about OSHA record-keeping requirements than there is room in this article. I recommend that everyone responsible for their organization’s record-keeping take a class to gain a better understanding of what is required and how to stay in compliance. And if you ever have an immediate question about a particular situation, don’t hesitate to contact your local OSHA compliance officer.

About the Author: Danny Raines, CUSP, safety consultant, distribution and transmission, retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and opened Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC, providing compliance training, risk assessments and safety observation programs. He also is an affiliate instructor at Georgia Tech Research Center OSHA Outreach in Atlanta.

Voice of Experience

Danny Raines, CUSP

Danny Raines, CUSP, is an author, an OSHA-authorized trainer, and a transmission and distribution safety consultant who retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and now operates Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC.