Incident management, the process of identifying, documenting, responding to and eliminating workplace injuries and illnesses, is a fundamental obligation for many employers. An important aspect of incident management in safety is OSHA recordkeeping and determining what incidents should be tracked and what data needs to be collected and reported to regulators can be confusing.
Say you reported to your manager that you had a headache. You’re not sure what caused it and are given three acetaminophen capsules. Is this considered a first-aid case by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or is it a recordable injury incident that must be tracked? What if you were only given one capsule? Is it still first aid or should it be recorded by your incident management system?
An employee goes on one day of light duty at work. Is that a recordable? What if it lasts two days? A worker sprains an ankle at work, then goes to a doctor who provides a brace and an ice pack for the ankle. Under OSHA rules, the ice pack would be considered first aid, but the brace may or may not be. For example, a rigid brace used to immobilize the ankle would be considered medical treatment, making it recordable.
Do you know the differences between a recordable injury and a first-aid case? If you have questions about what to record in your incident management system and how and when to record it, you’re not alone.
Employers in private industry reported 2.7 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses to the U.S. Department of Labor in 2020. That’s a lot of paperwork. Many employers with more than 10 employees are required to keep a record of serious work-related injuries and illnesses that will be filed with OSHA as part of the employer’s OSHA 300 log. (Certain low-risk industries are exempted, and minor injuries requiring first aid only do not need to be recorded.)
While filling in the actual incident management form to report an injury and illness is simple enough, understanding what needs to be reported is where things get tricky for many safety professionals, according to Nathan Brayman, an occupational safety expert and former safety performance manager. The varied aspects of regulations are the hard part, he admits.
“When I first started, I was appalled by how poor (OSHA) recordkeeping knowledge was,” Brayman says. “I do think you can get over that hump, but you need to understand the nature of the regulations.”
This blog post examines an extremely important aspect of incident management in safety: OSHA’s recordkeeping rules and requirements, including how to submit OSHA recordkeeping forms and what needs to be reported.
Why Are there Questions about Incident Management Reporting?
Why is it that so many safety professionals don’t fully understand OSHA recordkeeping regulations? Brayman points to several things and specifically the lack of time available to study the regulations thoroughly. Safety professionals have a lot on their shoulders, he says, explaining many have other responsibilities such as managing security or human resources.
“They can barely take a breath and get through the things that are on their plate,” Brayman says. As a result, there’s too often a tendency to take a path of least resistance and interpret OSHA rules in ways that favor non-reporting.
“I often would run across safety pros or operational professionals who wanted very badly to find an excuse to not count something as recordable,” he says. “I was alarmed at the number of safety professionals who just simply did not have a grasp of OSHA recordkeeping regulations.”
So, let’s begin the story here with a look at OSHA’s Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements for incident management of safety and what should and should not be recorded.
An Overview of OSHA’s Recordkeeping Rules
Under OSHA’s Recordkeeping Rule, documenting workplace injuries and illnesses is a fundamental obligation for many employers in the United States. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) directs employers who are subject to the rule to perform incident management by annually preparing and maintaining a record of occupational injuries and illnesses. This must be reported each year by March 2. Generally, organizations that employ 10 or fewer people during the previous calendar year do not need to report, unless otherwise directed to by OSHA or the U.S. Department of Labor.
Those in certain low-hazard industries are likewise exempt from incident management reporting. These include retail trade; finance, insurance, real estate and services industries, if the three-year average lost workday case rate for their major industry group was 75 percent less than the overall three-year average of the lost workday case rate for private industry. Here is a more complete list of exempt industries.
OSHA recordkeeping requirements comprise three forms first introduced in 2002: OSHA 300, OSHA 300a and OSHA 301. OSHA Form 300 is an official log that details every injury or illness that occurs in a workplace. It includes three major sections:
- Identifying the injury/illness (name, case number, job title)
- Describing the injury (date of injury, where it occurred, description of injury/illness)
- Classifying the injury using the checkboxes (what was the result of the injury – e.g., missed work, hospitalization – and the general type of injury/illness)
Recording an illness or injury in a Form 300 requires filling out Form 301 at the same time. Form 301 is the Injury and Illness Incident Report for each event and provides additional space to describe the incident in detail, telling the story of what happened, why and what were the effects for the employee.
Incident management data collected and reported by employers must be uniform and accurate, assuring statistical data consistency and validity. OSHA uses recorded data for many purposes, including inspection targeting, performance measurement under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), standards development, resource allocation, and Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) eligibility and low-hazard industry exemptions. Recordkeeping data is also used in the analysis of health and safety environments at an employer’s establishment. It is also the information source for the OSHA Data Initiative (ODI) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) annual survey.
A completed Form 300a, required at the end of the year, tallies the impacts of injuries and illnesses but does not include personal information. Form 300 is used to complete Form 300a by identifying:
- Total number of deaths
- Total number of cases with days away from work
- Total number of cases with job transfer or restriction
- Total number of other recordable cases
- Total number of days away from work
- Total number of days of job transfer or restriction
- Total number of injuries, skin disorders, respiratory conditions, poisonings, hearing losses and other illnesses
In the case of a fatal or serious workplace injury – defined as an amputation, hospitalization or loss of an eye – employers, including those otherwise exempt from OSHA recordkeeping, are required to notify OSHA. A fatality must be reported within eight hours and an in-patient hospitalization, amputation or eye loss must be reported within 24 hours. A report can be made in one of three ways:
- Call the nearest OSHA office
- Call the OSHA 24-hour hotline at 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA)
- Make a report online
Be prepared to supply the business name; names of employees affected; location and time of the incident; a brief description of the incident; and the contact person and phone number. Incident reporting software comes in handy at this point, as it allows the user to document all pertinent information that’s required on the OSHA forms and generates the report.
Finally, forms must be kept on file for five years following the year to which they pertain. It’s also necessary to update the Form 300 with any changes to the recorded cases during that period, although completed copies of the forms should not be sent to OSHA. Forms should be made available to employees, former employees, their representatives and to OSHA officials upon request. Note: Both the Form 300 and Form 301 incident reports will include information relating to employee health and therefore can only be used in a manner that protects confidentiality to the extent possible while promoting occupational safety and health.
OSHA’s recordkeeping rules say that any work‐related injury or illness that meets a certain severity criterion must be recorded on the appropriate OSHA forms within seven calendar days of learning about its occurrence. Whether the incident is work-related is the first question to consider. Brayman advises assuming a geographic presumption of work relatedness, which basically means anything that occurs in the work environment is work-related.
“We have to presume work relatedness,” he says. “A common mistake is that people presume it is not. That’s actually the opposite way that you should be approaching OSHA recordkeeping.”
OSHA describes exceptions to the presumption of work relatedness, but that list is extremely short.
For anything that occurs in the work environment, “just assume it’s work related, unless you have enough evidence to overcome the presumption,” Brayman says, adding, “that evidence must come from a licensed health professional…it can’t just be your own opinion.”
Severity level is the next consideration. An injury or illness needs to be severe enough so that it falls into one of OSHA’s recordable categories that include:
- Medical treatment given beyond first aid. OSHA has a list of first-aid treatments and a specific set of definitions that define what is considered first aid and does not need to be recorded. Anything else is considered medical treatment and is recordable.
- If you are injured badly enough, but don’t get treated for it, then it may fall under “work restrictions,” which are things that might include partial time off, light duty or a job transfer to a different role. These, too, are recordable injuries.
- Lost time or days away – when a doctor recommends time off to recover.
- Loss of consciousness
- Exposure to certain diseases may also be recordable
OSHA defines an injury or illness as an abnormal condition or disorder. Injuries and illnesses include things such as cuts, fractures, sprains, skin diseases or respiratory conditions. For OSHA recordkeeping and incident management purposes, an injury or illness can also be subjective symptoms such as aches or pain.
Exposures that do not result in signs or symptoms are not considered injuries or illnesses and should not be recorded on the OSHA forms. OSHA cites the example of an employee who is exposed to chlorine but does not exhibit any signs or symptoms due to the exposure. In this case, it would not be a recordable event, even if prophylactic medical treatment were administered.
Cases caused, contributed to or aggravated by events or exposures in a work environment are considered work-related for OSHA recordkeeping purposes. Work‐relatedness is presumed for injuries and illnesses occurring in the workplace or in locations where the employee is located as a condition of employment. It’s important to remember that if work makes any contribution to the injury or illness, it is considered work‐related for OSHA recordkeeping and incident management purposes. There are certain activities that occur in a work environment that OSHA does not consider work-related, such as injuries resulting directly from the eating, drinking or the preparing of one’s own food at a workplace.
Work‐related injuries and illnesses that result in death, loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work activity, transfer to another job or medical treatment beyond first aid must be recorded on the OSHA forms. Work‐related cases of cancer, chronic irreversible diseases, fractured or cracked bones or teeth or a punctured eardrum must also be entered on the OSHA forms, as these are considered significant injuries and illnesses. The OSHA rule also contains special criteria for recording occupational hearing loss, tuberculosis, injuries from needlesticks and sharps potentially contaminated with bloodborne pathogens, and cases involving medical removal required by other OSHA standards.
Underreporting is an Issue in Incident Management
A 2018 report submitted to the United States Congress by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Labor observed that, “OSHA did not have controls in place to ensure that it had complete information on the number of work-related fatalities and severe injuries. In fact, during the course of (a) review, OSHA’s former assistant secretary estimated that perhaps 50 percent or more of severe injuries had gone unreported.”
Underreporting of incidents continues to be a problem and can jeopardize successful incident management in safety. Jason Barry, an Intelex enterprise account executive and president of the Snake River Chapter of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), says there’s a lot of what he calls “pencil whipping” when it comes to recording incidents because many don’t necessarily look at cases as deeply as they should.
Barry says, for the purposes of OSHA recordkeeping and proper incident management, it’s essential to examine each individual case and to go through a decision analysis to determine whether an incident should be recorded, as well as ensure the right information for a recordable incident is gathered.
“That’s another part that I think is often overlooked,” he says. “People don’t do that – they just say, based on their own knowledge, this is recordable or is not recordable. And a lot of times the only thing they look at is whether (an employee) went to a doctor and was given treatment or not.”
Some companies even put the onus on workplace supervisors to make the determination of recordability, even though they may not fully understand the requirements of recordability statutes. These supervisors might be handed an incident management form to fill and given vague instructions on what should be reported and why – direction that would then require whoever fills out the incident form to interpret meaning. Some organizations might gather more recordables than they need to, Barry adds, suggesting that incident analysis “could get rid of a few.” It’s where an incident management software and technology can help.
“[Incident management] software helps to make it easy for those supervisors and others who don’t have the expertise to know what information should be entered,” Barry says, adding that Intelex’s incident management software provides that ability.
“With (the Intelex tool) EHS can say, ‘OK, supervisor, you do the reportability and we’ll verify it, but to make it easier for you and so you don’t have to really think about it, just answer these questions in the (Intelex) OSHA decision tool. It will give you a recommendation on whether it is recordable or not.”
Intelex Process Improvement Leader Angelo Cianfrocco says every incident or event that goes unreported can affect the social health of a workforce and is a missed opportunity to learn and move an organization towards greater safety.
“If employees feel they don’t have the tools or are not empowered to report incidents, they may begin to believe that management isn’t prioritizing their wellbeing and a downward spiral begins,” he says. Cianfrocco says he believes there are three major reasons why underreporting of incidents and events occurs:
- Culture – There can be an explicit – or more often an implicit – suppression of incident reporting. Do you want to report that laceration and ruin a company’s days-without-a-recordable streak? The answer to that paradox is usually suppression, Cianfrocco says. Culture can drive suppression, which he characterizes as good intentions gone astray rather than malicious intent. Goals, and key performance indicators hinging on the number of incidents, recordables, days away and other factors are usually put in place to help drive a focus to safety, but the good intention can lead to unintended and undesired consequences.
- Availability – Workers are busy and a streamlined way to report an incident or especially a near miss or hazard observation is essential. Convenience is king, and if the ability to report isn’t easy and straightforward then it isn’t likely to happen. Technology can help to make the process of entering incident information simpler and it can ensure the right person gets incident information, via workflow automation. It also eliminates the need for workers to figure out who to pass along this information.
- Training – Employees need training to understand the importance of incident management, know how to fill out and submit reports and to recognize what are the events or incidents that must be logged and reported. Just as importantly, they need to understand the “why” behind the importance of being diligent and dutiful in incident management reporting. Without such context, employees may not see the value, which may discourage submitting a report.
Changing the Safety Culture
Outdated ideas and legacy culture thinking may be the greatest deterrents to improving recordkeeping and incident management in safety. Brayman says he believes the problem is grounded in a primary focus on the total number of accidents and illnesses that occur in a workplace. Most organizations want to keep that number as low as possible, which often discourages incident reporting and impacts an organization’s ability to learn what’s happening and to keep people safe.
“Setting goals based on incident rates is antithetical to safety – the most opposite strategy you can have,” Brayman says. “People above you and operational leaders may insist on measuring safety this way and they won’t listen or change things. Or it may be part of a metric that determines their annual payout.”
He thinks the biggest challenge is convincing a company that has for 50 or 100 years measured safety in terms of days since the last lost-time injury to move away from that approach. “How do you actually get that to change and focus on things like valued behaviors? I think that’s the hardest part of recordkeeping.”
It discourages incident reporting, Brayman says. “Even if something is obviously recordable, you may not hear about it or you may get a lot of pushbacks. Depending on the political nature of your work environment, (incidents) just may go on unrecorded and it can become quite a mess.”
Brayman cited two examples he’s personally familiar with where companies acted in ways that discouraged incident reporting. At one organization, when an employee was injured, the amount of incentive payment that the employee and his or her supervisor received at the end of the year would potentially be reduced by up to $2,000. At another company he is aware of, when an employee suffered an injury, he or she would be brought before a senior leadership team for harsh questioning and to explain how and why the injury occurred.
“That is going to sow fear in your culture,” Brayman says. “Fear is the biggest blocker to communication. How you treat employees impacts how they will communicate with you. And incidents that are not reported put companies at risk.”
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