Many organizations, including small businesses, are subject to OSHA recordkeeping requirements for injuries and illnesses that meet certain parameters. Although workplace incidents resulting in illness or injury can be rare for smaller organizations, especially those that are careful in their management of risks, these incidents must be properly identified, recorded and in some cases, reported, so that safe workplaces can be ensured and maintained.
As part of the Department of Labor, OSHA’s stated mission is “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” As part of its enforcement mission, OSHA levies penalties and delivers consequences including assessing a maximum of $12,675 per violation for serious, less than serious and posting violations. Failure to abate an identified safety problem can result in a $12,675 per day penalty per instance of failure to abate, and willful or repeated violations can earn a penalty of up to $126,749 per violation.
Of course, the first priority for proper recordkeeping is to make the organization's leadership aware of potential hazards and need for training to keep employees safe at work. This is the goal of every great HR, Safety Department and executive leadership team. But in addition, the financial impact can be significant. OSHA-levied penalties can have a substantial impact on the operations of any business, but particularly on smaller organizations. In addition, the negative press such OSHA penalties receive, and the long life the cases have online in OSHA's own public database, can destroy trust among the public and be devastating to a company's brand.
How do employers know which incidents may be OSHA recordable, and therefore required to be included in records kept for review? An easy-to-use tool is provided by OSHA through elaws, and consists of a series of questions that take the user through the decision-making process. A decision tree visually illustrates the general steps in determining OSHA recordability:
Recordability seems simple, but there is often more to the story depending on the facts of the situation, and things can change over time as well. Often when a worker is injured or becomes ill, initial first aid treatment may stabilize his or her condition, but later treatment or restrictions can turn a first aid only case into a recordable incident. Updating the status in the OSHA records is critical for compliance.
Finally, many organizations make the mistake of including workers' compensation documents, medical records and safety “root cause” reports in the same file with OSHA records. As with many auditors, OSHA will expect to review a set of information upon request when visiting your organization on site. That information includes, for each business location, for the past five years:
- OSHA forms 301 or equivalent internal First Report of Incident forms that contain all of the same information
- OSHA form 300 with information included on every recordable case (with identity masked for workers with sensitive cases like reproductive injury or biohazard exposure)
- OSHA form 300A summary form completed and posted during the period of February 1-May 1 of each year
Medical records showing the factual basis for a decision of recordability or non-recordability should be retained and stored separately from these documents. If your HR team isn’t familiar with OSHA recordkeeping requirements for injuries and illnesses, consider seeking a safety or HR consultant to assist you in setting up your processes, so you can keep your workforce safe and remain in compliance with OSHA requirements. Don't overlook this critical, but easy to maintain, safety and workplace regulatory requirement.