Make changes for OSHA recordkeeping

Common pitfalls to compliance

Editor's Note: This is a two-part series on occupational health's role in preventing recordkeeping violations. This month, we report on your role in improving compliance, and identify some of the specific violations that can occur in workplaces. Last month, we covered strategies to identify and prevent violations, and what OSHA's new enforcement emphasis means for your workplace.

There is no question about it: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations for recordkeeping are increasing significantly, and companies are getting hit with heavy fines.

Regularly monitoring the OSHA 300 log to ensure its accuracy is one way to stay in compliance. "Make sure cases have been entered correctly," says Patricia B. Strasser, PhD, RN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, principal of Partners in BusinessHealth Solutions in Toledo, OH. "Track cases and update the log as needed after the initial entry." Strasser recommends these other steps:

• If you are not responsible for entering the data on the OSHA 300 log, ensure that you're in regular communication with the person who is.

• Ensure there is good documentation regarding how and why decisions are made. "This is especially important where the decision is made to not put the case on the OSHA log," notes Strasser.

• Maintain all the required documentation in an easily accessible location.

• Perform proactive recordkeeping audits.

"Review all pertinent documents related to injuries and workers' compensation cases in the five calendar year OSHA window, to ensure accuracy of the OSHA logs," says Strasser. "Or if the number of cases is very large, audit a representative sample of the cases."

The usual suspects

Here are common violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)'s recordkeeping standards to watch for:

• Someone makes an incorrect decision that a particular case does not meet recording criteria.

"Many omissions or errors result from not fully understanding the rule," Strasser says. There may be confusion over the definitions of "first aid," the "geographic presumption" of work-relatedness, "significant aggravation," or what constitutes a "new case."

• Workers' compensation requirements are mistakenly equated with OSHA recording criteria.

Strasser says she has seen many instances where a case is not recorded because the case was "denied" and is not compensable under the state workers' compensation statute.

"It's erroneous to think that workers' compensation and OSHA requirements are the same," says Strasser. "OSHA stipulates that recording a case is not an indication of workers' compensation eligibility."

Depending on the state workers' compensation statute, a case may not be considered "work-related" under the statute. However, it may meet OSHA recording criteria, and vice versa.

• There is confusion over what qualifies as "first aid" versus "medical treatment," for recordability purposes.

Michelle L. McCarthy, RN, COHN, on-site medical case manager for Genex Services in Norcross, GA, says that examples of "First Aid" injuries are a wound that requires only a tetanus shot, a minor strain that only needs over-the-counter medications and no restrictions, or an X-ray for diagnostic purposes if the X-ray is negative and no medications, restrictions or splints are given.

Any injury requiring prescription strength medication or a splint with a "hard" stay in it (such as a cock-up wrist splint or Aircast ankle brace), any type of fracture, or anything that restricts the employee's normal job functions and/or moves them from their work area, is recordable, says McCarthy.

• There is a misunderstanding regarding the definition of an OSHA-recordable "work restriction."

Employers may believe that an injury is not recordable as a work restriction if the injured employee can still perform any useful work. "However, the OSHA standard requires the injury to be recorded as a work restriction when the injured employee is restricted from doing any of the 'routine functions' of his job," says Eric J. Conn, a partner based in the Washington, DC office of McDermott Will & Emery. Conn's practice focuses on occupational safety and health law.

• Data are incomplete or out of date.

"The OSHA log requires a lot of data. It is easy to inadvertently omit an element, such as a job description," says Thomas Slavin, safety and health director at Navistar International, a Warrenville, IL-based manufacturer of trucks and diesel engines. "Keeping track of days away or restricted activity days can be a challenge that requires coordination and follow up."

• Treatment by a personal physician or outside clinic affects recordability.

Someone you treat may go to their own physician later and get a different course of treatment, such as a prescription or work restriction. This may make the case recordable. "It is not always clear what medications or procedures were used when dealing with outside clinics or emergency rooms," says Slavin. "It is critical to confirm whether or not such treatment would make a case recordable."

• Documentation is incomplete.

Many cases are complex, and there is often good rationale for making a decision about recordability. However, both the decision and the rationale behind it should be clearly documented.

"Even if OSHA would second guess the decision later, the documentation would show good faith," says Slavin. "Avoid any consideration of a willful violation, for making what they consider a wrong judgment call."

SOURCES

For more information on preventing recordkeeping violations, contact:

• Eric J. Conn, McDermott Will & Emery, Washington, DC. Phone: (202) 756-8248. Fax: (202) 756-8087. E-mail: econn@mwe.com.

• Michelle L. McCarthy, RN, COHN, On-Site Medical Case Manager, Genex Services, Norcross, GA. Phone: (770) 266-4922. Fax: (770) 266-4869. E-mail: michelle.mccarthy@genexservices.com

• Thomas Slavin, Safety and Health Director, Navistar International, Warrenville, IL. Phone: (312) 836-3929. E-mail: tom.slavin@navistar.com.

• Patricia B. Strasser, PhD, RN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, Partners in BusinessHealth Solutions, Toledo, OH. Phone: (419) 882-0342. Fax: (419) 843-2623. E-mail: pbsinc@prodigy.net.