Most employers are required to keep OSHA injury and illness records for each of its covered establishments. To meet these obligations, it is prudent for employers to have well-written policies that require employees to report all workplace injuries and illnesses and to foster a culture that encourages reporting. Indeed, OSHA’s electronic recordkeeping rule specifically prohibits employers from discouraging workers from reporting an injury or illness and requires employers to inform employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses free from retaliation. For example, OSHA would generally consider a policy that requires employees to immediately, without exception, report an injury or illness as retaliatory.
However, not all injury and illness are necessarily recordable. OSHA has published guidance to assist employers in determining when an injury or illness must be recorded. See https://www.osha.gov/recordkeeping. For example, minor injuries only requiring “first aid” do not need to be recorded. The link above describes how OSHA defines “first aid” as opposed to “medical treatment” for which such injuries would need to be recorded. First aid includes the use of wound coverings such as bandages, Band-Aids, and gauze pads.
Obviously, an employer cannot make a determination of whether an injury is recordable unless it is reported in the first instance. However, even if the employer determines an injury is not recordable, it should not necessarily disregard or ignore this information as the data can be a useful tool in safety prevention. Employers should periodically review OSHA logs of recordable injuries/illnesses to determine if there are any noticeable patterns and/or history of injuries or illnesses that might justify a more comprehensive review of certain safety policies and procedures. The same reasoning also exists if the injury does not need to be recorded.
Take the hypothetical scenario where a new manufacturing process is implemented which contains a heating element in the production process. An employee gets to close and suffers a minor burn which requires putting on some antibiotic cream and a Band-Aid. Under the recordkeeping rules, this would most likely be considered first aid and a non-recordable event. Three months later, another employee suffers the same injury and this repeats with another employee 5 months later.
This scenario presents a few good reminders. First, employees need to be trained to report all workplace injuries regardless of severity. The employer, not the employee, needs to make the determination of whether an injury is recordable. Second, by internally documenting the non-recordable injury, the employer is in a better position to recognize a visible pattern the second or perhaps third time an employee reports the injury and initiate a root cause analysis. The investigation might reveal a potential guarding issue or the need to use certain PPE like gloves. Finally, some documentation of the injury would also help defend a claim by OSHA that the injuries should have been recorded.
Ultimately, even the non-recordable injury can be a helpful tool for employers to protect their greatest assets – their employees.