Answer: Many years ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) determined that "because back cases are usually triggered by an instantaneous event," employers should record all back cases as injuries, regardless of the particular facts of the case ("Recordkeeping Guidelines," page 38, Q&A D-4). The BLS made this determination, in part, "to keep recordkeeping determinations as simple and equitable as possible." OSHA has followed this interpretation in subsequent opinion letters.
Record all back cases as injuries until regs revised.
OSHA is in the process of revising its recordkeeping regulations (29 CFR Part 1904), and the issue concerning the recording of back injuries is one of many that OSHA is considering for revision. However, in order to maintain the consistency of the data currently kept using the existing regulations, employers should comply with the current regulations and interpretations until the revision of the recordkeeping system becomes effective. The current system provides nationwide consistency on the OSHA No. 200 and 101 recordkeeping forms and the BLS Survey of Occupational Injury. Therefore, until the regulations are revised, employers should record all back cases as injuries.
Citation not likely.
For the reasons explained above, classification of a back case as an illness rather than an injury is a violation of the regulations as interpreted by the "Recordkeeping Guidelines."
It's impossible to generalize because the assessment of a penalty is dependent on the specific facts presented. But if an employer were to record a back case erroneously as an illness, and that were the only infraction at issue, it seems likely that such an error would not "materially impair the understandability of the nature of the hazards, injuries and illnesses in the workplace." The employer simply would be "provided information on maintaining the records ... accurately...." No citation would be issued, but the employer would be expected to correct the records.
OSHA might issue a citation for such an exposure if all the necessary elements of a general duty clause violation were found to be present in a particular work situation. The elements are:
- The hazard could result in serious injury.
- Sufficient industry or employer knowledge of the hazard was present.
- The employer was aware that employees were exposed to the hazard.
This hazard isn't addressed by any specific OSHA standard or by the applicable industry consensus standard (ANSI A92.2). Therefore, determining whether there is sufficient employer knowledge present to justify a citation for this hazard would necessarily be based on information, obtained during an OSHA inspection, specific to the particular employer and work situation. Consequently, the question of whether OSHA would issue a citation for this hazard must be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Cite: OSHA Standards Interpretation and Compliance Letter, "Employers Should Record All Back Cases as Injuries," October 8, 1999.
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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.