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How do you determine work-relatedness for injuries or illnesses?

It’s that time of year again — when OSHA expects employers to report and post their work-related injuries and illness information. Just the thought of this regulatory requirement can skyrocket an employer’s anxiety until they have a good understanding of work-relatedness.

Over a four-week period, we polled our Compliance Network subscribers to gain some insight on how they determine work-relatedness for injuries and incidents at their facilities. Here are the numbers:

  • 33.33 percent stated they review OSHA standard definitions;
  • 44.44 percent shared that they confer with occupational medical representatives;
  • 3.70 percent expressed that they utilize consulting or expert help services;
  • 18.52 percent purported that they use their best judgement; and
  • 0 percent were seeking more help in determining incident work-relatedness.

29 CFR 1904 points out that work-relatedness is presumed for injuries and illnesses resulting from events or exposures occurring in the work environment. Ironically, it doesn’t always seem that cut and dry, does it?

What are the determining factors for work-relatedness?

To determine work-relatedness, employers must evaluate:

  1. If an injury or illness resulted from an event or exposure in the work environment, and
  2. If the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness.

A key definition to understand is “work environment,” which OSHA considers as establishments and other locations where one or more employees are present or working as a condition of their employment. This can include physical locations as well as the equipment or materials used by the employee during the course of their work.

Similar to other OSHA regulations, there are exceptions to this rule. Non-work-related events that fall outside of it include instances where the injury or illness:

  • Occurred when the employee was in the work environment as a member of the general public rather than as an employee.
  • Developed signs and symptoms that surfaced at work but resulted from a non-work-related event or exposure that occurs outside of the work environment.
  • Resulted solely from:
    • Participating voluntarily in a wellness program or in a fitness, recreational, or medical activity;
    • Eating, drinking, or preparing food/drink for personal consumption;
    • Doing personal tasked unrelated to their employment outside of assigned working hours; or
    • Self-medicating for a non-work-related condition, personal grooming, or is self-inflicted;
  • 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.
  • Identified as the common cold or flu.
  • Recognized as a mental illness (unless a licensed health care professional opinion state otherwise).

Does determining work-relatedness change if employees work from home?

Whether an employee works from home, or the office, work-related injuries and illnesses must be accounted for. There are two important criteria for determining home based work-related injuries and illnesses, which:

  1. Occurred while the employee is performing work for pay or compensation in the home, and
  2. Are related directly to the performance of work rather than to the general home environment or setting.

For example, if an employee is injured because they trip on the family dog while rushing to answer a work phone call, OSHA doesn’t consider this case work-related. Though the call is work related, the dog is considered unique to the general home environment, so only one of the criteria is in play.

Are there State differences for injury and illness recordkeeping?

Even with the federal mandates, each state manages injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting differently. State requirements must be as stringent as federal OSHA but may have additional requirements. So, make sure you’ve checked what your state requires.

All employers covered by OSHA are covered by the requirements of 1904. Some employers, however, don’t have to maintain injury and illness records unless OSHA or the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) informs them in writing that they must do so.

Key to Remember: Understanding OSHA’s established recordkeeping criteria and definitions related to standard can help ease employer anxiety when determining injury and illness work-relatedness.

Need help breaking down your NAICS Code for injury and illness reporting?

See our Compliance Network article “Have You Cracked your NAICS Code.”

Or want to better understand unique injury and illness recordkeeping requirements for your state?

See our state comparison table here on Compliance Network.