COVID-19 As a Recordable Illness Under OSHA

covid-19 as recordable illness under osha

Due to the current public health crisis, many employers have more questions than usual about their OSHA requirements. Today, we’ll take a look at OSHA recordkeeping requirements and when COVID-19 becomes a recordable illness.

OSHA Recordkeeping Requirements

The Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to provide a hazard-free workplace. As an employer in the United States, you most likely have obligations under OSHA–starting with recordkeeping. Under OSHA, businesses with:

  • 10+ employees must maintain injury and illness records.
  • Less than 10 employees throughout the year do not need to keep these records.

Additionally, businesses can be partially exempt from requirements if they are classified as low-hazard. For example, businesses in retail, finance, and real estate industries.

When Does OSHA Consider COVID-19 a Recordable Illness?

If an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, the employer would need to assess if:

  • The case was “work-related”, and
  • Whether it meets OSHA’s additional recordability criteria (i.e. resulted in a fatality, days away from work, restricted duty, or medical treatment beyond first aid).

As current protocols for treating COVID-19 typically require affected persons to self-quarantine and stay home, it is likely that the additional severity criteria will be met.

Therefore, the main question for employers becomes whether a case is “work-related”.

When is COVID-19 “Work-Related”?

OSHA has issued evolving guidance on how to determine the “work-relatedness” of a COVID-19 case. The most recent guidance came in the form of a memo on May 19, 2020: Revised Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases.

Employers must conduct an analysis when there is potential exposure at work. (Keep in mind that OSHA will review how thorough the investigation was!) To provide some guidance, the OSHA memo provides several examples to help employers determine the “work-relatedness” of a COVID-19 case.

Likely work-related:
  • Several cases develop among workers who work closely together and there is no alternative explanation.
  • It is contracted shortly after lengthy, close exposure to a particular customer or co-worker who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 and there is no alternative explanation.
  • The employee’s job duties include having frequent, close exposure to the general public in a locality with ongoing community transmission and there is no alternative explanation.
Likely not work-related:
  • The employee is the only worker to contract COVID-19 in their vicinity and their job duties do not include having frequent contact with the general public, regardless of the rate of community spread.
  • Outside the workplace, the employee closely and frequently associates with someone (e.g., a family member, significant other, or close friend) who:
    • Has COVID-19;
    • Is not a coworker, and
    • Exposes the employee during the period in which the individual is likely infectious.

Reportability: Time Limits for Incidents

If you do determine that an employee has a confirmed, work-related case of COVID-19, you must report the case to OSHA if:

  • It results in a fatality or the in-patient hospitalization of one or more employees, and
  • The fatality or in-patient hospitalization occurs within the OSHA-specified timeframe.

Thus, if a fatality due to COVID-19 occurs after 30 days from the workplace incident leading to the illness, an employer is not required to report it.

Similarly, if the in-patient hospitalization occurs after 24 hours from the workplace incident leading to the illness, the employer is not required to report.

Given the nature of COVID-19 and the time it takes for disease progression, this may result in fewer reports to OSHA despite an increase in cases going forward.

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Guidance on Social Distancing at Work

To decrease the risk of infection in the workplace, OSHA published a one-page guide for implementing social distancing protocols. Suggestions include:

  • Maintaining 6 feet of distance wherever possible.
  • Establishing flexible sites and shifts where feasible.
  • Establishing social distancing protocol for customers by marking the floor.
  • Staggering breaks and rearranging common areas to limit crowding.
  • Repositioning workplaces and installing plexiglass barriers where possible.
  • Encouraging workers to report illnesses and stay home if experiencing symptoms.

What Do You Think?

For more resources on how to navigate returning to work post-pandemic, be sure to check out our COVID-19 Resources Hub. And don’t forget to follow us out on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn for even more business tips & tricks!

Photo by Marcus Aurelius from Pexels

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