Ensuring the safety of your workers is one of your company’s foremost concerns. Unfortunately, even the most conscientious employers with the best safety plans sometimes cannot prevent injuries from happening. Watching a colleague hurt himself at work is a difficult and unpleasant experience. Dealing with the legal repercussions of that event can also be confusing or frustrating.
Anytime someone is seriously injured at work, there is a web of legal questions that must be addressed. Once you have taken care of the difficult task of caring for your injured coworker, you owe it to your company to ensure you know what you need to do to comply with the many sets of laws that come into play when an employee is injured on the job.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act is one of several State and Federal Laws that apply when a worker is injured. OSHA was developed to address workplace safety concerns. The Iowa Division of Labor is responsible for enforcement of its own OSH Act (IOSHA). In general, the requirements under IOSHA and the Federal OSH Act are similar. OSHA is complicated and contains many traps for the unwary/uninitiated.
One of OSHA’s requirements is that employers maintain a log regarding certain kinds of workplace injuries. Importantly, not all employers are subject to OSHA. If you are unsure which requirements apply to your workplace, it would be a good idea to contact an experienced attorney prior to any workplace accident to get the answer and conduct adequate training and preparation, if necessary.
Along with the OSHA log requirements, there are a handful of circumstances that require almost immediate reporting to OSHA. For example, employers covered by OSHA must orally report to the OSHA office the death of an employee or the inpatient hospitalization of three of more employees from a work related incident. This oral report must occur within eight hours of the incident. In these extremely serious situations, an OSHA inspector will generally conduct an inspection within 24 hours of the incident. It is particularly crucial to have an experienced attorney participate in the OSHA inspection process following one of these very serious incidents.
Employers with more than 10 employees, in most industries, are required to record work related injuries and illnesses using forms created by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Determining what type of injury may require recording can be a complicated process. As a general matter, employers must record the following types of incidences:
- All work related fatalities;
- All work related injuries and illnesses that result in days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job;
- Any work related injuries that include loss of consciousness;
- Any work related injuries that include medical treatment beyond “first aid”;
- Any work related injuries or illnesses diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional, even if that injury or illness does not qualify under one of the requirements above;
- Work related injuries such as cuts, fractures, sprains, or amputations;
- Work related illnesses including, but not limited to skin diseases, respiratory disorders, and poisoning.
Determining whether or not an injury of illness is “work related” is often the most difficult aspect of this process, and is a different analysis from that involved in determining whether an injury might be compensable under workers compensation laws. In general, work is viewed as a “contributing factor” for OSHA purposes where the work environment either caused or contributed to the condition. If an event or exposure at work significantly aggravated a preexisting injury or illness, that aggravation is work related. Similarly, determining whether an injury requires treatment beyond “first aid” can be difficult. The Federal OSHA law defines “first aid” for purposes of OSHA recordkeeping. See 29 C.F.R. § 1904.7(b)(5)(ii)(A)-(N).
In addition to requiring a record of all workplace injuries, OSHA has adopted a number of requirements regarding how those records must be maintained and where a summary of those records must be posted. It is important to ensure not only that your company is creating records when necessary, but also that your company is storing and sharing that information in a manner than conforms to the Federal and State laws.
Dealing with an injury to a friend and coworker is a difficult an unpleasant process. Pre-planning so you have a clear directive in place for recordkeeping will eliminate some unneeded stress from an already difficult situation. Consult with your S&I attorney or Sam Jones if you have any OSHA questions or needs. Proactive planning on OSHA issues save time and money down the road.