New cases, as well as deaths, related to the COVID-19 pandemic are being reported almost daily in the US. Some of these cases could be work-related, highlighting the need for businesses to re-familiarize themselves with the recordkeeping and reporting requirements established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Is COVID-19 a Recordable Illness?
Section 1904.46 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 defines an injury or illness as “an abnormal condition or disorder. Injuries include cases such as, but not limited to, a cut, fracture, sprain, or amputation. Illnesses include both acute and chronic illnesses, such as, but not limited to, a skin disease, respiratory disorder, or poisoning.”
Injuries and illnesses are recordable only if they are new, work-related cases that meet one or more of OSHA’s recording criteria. In most cases, recordable injuries or illnesses require the attention of a physician or other licensed health care professional.
Unless a specific exception applies, an injury or illness is generally presumed to be work-related if an event or exposure occurring in the work environment is the discernable cause of the injury or illness or a significant aggravation of a preexisting condition.
While OSHA’s standard exempts recording of the common cold and influenza, COVID-19 qualifies as a recordable illness in cases where a worker is infected as a result of performing work-related duties. It is subject to the same rules and failureto-record fines as other workplace injuries and illnesses. The determination of whether an infection is work-related is the employer’s responsibility.
As of April 10, 2020, only employers in the health care industry, emergency response organizations, and correctional institutions will be required to record COVID-19 cases. Other employers will be expected to implement good hygiene practices and record COVID-19 cases only if there is objective evidence that such cases may be work-related and the evidence was reasonably available to the employer.
OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements mandate that covered employers record certain work-related injuries and illnesses on their OSHA 300 logs and 300A summaries. Until further notice, frontline employers are only responsible for recording COVID-19 cases if all of the following conditions are met:
The OSHA standard for recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses includes a number of questions and and answers that outline the recording criteria that apply to COVID-19.
Lost Time Recordkeeping
Infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can cause illness ranging from mild to severe and, in some cases, can be fatal. Symptoms typically include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Some people infected with the virus have reported experiencing other non-respiratory symptoms. Other people, referred to as asymptomatic cases, have experienced no symptoms at all.
If an employee receives a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, the employee must have a note from a physician or other licensed health care professional to support the number of days away from work. An employee who does not seek medical attention and takes a day or more off to self-medicate or rest/recover on their own without the counsel of a medical professional does not qualify as a day or days away from work.
Serious Injury Reporting
The OSHA standard for reporting fatality, injury, and illness information to the government — 29 CFR 1904.39 — applies to all employers, including those who are exempt from routinely keeping OSHA injury and illness records due to their company size or industry. Companies that operate establishments in states with state-operated OSHA plans may have slightly different requirements. California, for example, modified its serious injury reporting requirements, effective January 1, 2020. It is important for businesses to become familiar with the serious injury reporting rules in each state where they have establishments.
OSHA requirements include:
Employers have three options for reporting the event:
When reporting a fatality, inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye to OSHA, employers must share the following information:
Exemptions to Injury and Illness Reporting Rules
Employers with 10 or fewer employees at all times during the previous calendar year are exempt from routinely keeping OSHA injury and illness records. However, if a business has more than 10 employees across several establishments in a calendar year, all establishments are then subject to the OSHA recordkeeping rules, unless otherwise exempt. For example, if a company has a manufacturing facility with 100 or more employees and several small distribution centers (some of which may have 10 or fewer employees) around the country, each establishment is required to maintain OSHA illness and injury records.
Establishments in certain low-hazard industries are partially exempt from routinely keeping OSHA injury and illness records. The list of exempt industries is classified by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), which is the standard used by federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments. The injury and illness rate threshold for an exemption is based on recent Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) data.