EHS Administration

Workplace Injury? The Buck Stops with You

One of the most confusing tasks for environment, health, and safety (EHS) managers has to do with recording and reporting workplace injuries. Sometimes, it is very clear when a workplace injury occurs—and sometimes, it is not so easy. In a recent letter of interpretation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did not shed much light on the subject, but the message is very clear: It’s your responsibility to figure it out.

Let’s take a look at what happened and how OSHA responded.

When the ‘Ouch’ Is Felt Later

An employee was working with glass and was wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Later that day, while not at work, he felt something in his eye, and it became irritated.

That night, he went to the doctor for the eye irritation. There was an abrasion to his eye but no foreign body present. He wasn’t sure if his eye was irritated at work or not.

OSHA’s response starts out on a very positive note for the EHS manager. According to OSHA, a case is presumed work-related if, and only if, an event or exposure in the work environment is a discernible cause of the injury or illness or of a significant aggravation to a preexisting condition. Because this employee’s condition arose outside of the work environment, and there was no discernable event or exposure that led to the condition, the presumption of work relationship does not apply.

However, your work is not necessarily done in this case.

OSHA goes on to say that if it is not obvious whether the injury occurred in the work environment or elsewhere, you must evaluate the employee’s work duties and environment and make a determination whether it is more likely than not that work events or exposures were a cause of the injury or illness or of a significant aggravation of a preexisting condition.

OSHA makes it clear that the employer has the ultimate responsibility for making good-faith recordkeeping determinations regarding an injury and/or illness. Employers must decide if and how a particular case should be recorded, and your decision must not be an arbitrary one.