General Recordkeeping Criteria in the Age of COVID-19

By Lisa Neuberger, EHS Editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we do business in this country. Workers who are able to are now working from home, and workers who are in construction or manufacturing are practicing social distancing on the job. Healthcare workers, social workers, and others who have contact with the public must take extra precautions to protect themselves from exposures to the coronavirus. With these changes come questions about how to record work-related cases of COVID-19 and whether to report to OSHA deaths or hospitalizations related to the illness.

Read on to learn what OSHA has to say about the recordability of COVID-19 in the workplace along with the agency’s injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting regulations in 29 CFR Part 1904.

ARE THERE ANY ADDITIONAL CRITERIA TO MEET FOR A CASE OF COVID-19 TO BE RECORDABLE?

Yes. OSHA says that for it to be recordable, a new case of COVID-19 must be work-related, confirmed by a laboratory test, and meet one or more of the recording criteria.

WHAT DOES OSHA MEAN BY “CONFIRMED”?

A confirmed case of COVID-19 means an individual with at least one respiratory specimen that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

IS AN EXPOSURE AUTOMATICALLY RECORDABLE?

No. An employee exposure to the illness in the workplace is not automatically recordable. The exposure must result in signs or symptoms of the disease and be confirmed by a laboratory test. In addition, it must meet one or more of the general recording criteria.

WHAT ARE THE GENERAL RECORDKEEPING CRITERIA?

The general recordkeeping criteria are listed in order of seriousness in §1904.7 and include:

  • Death
  • Days away from work
  • Restricted work activity or job transfer
  • Medical treatment beyond first aid
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Significant injury diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional

Unfortunately, many cases of COVID-19 are resulting in death. Almost all cases of the disease will result in days away from work, even if the employee feels well enough to work. That’s because employees who are exhibiting symptoms of the disease, or who even have had an exposure to the disease, are required to self-quarantine for at least 14 days.

WHAT DOES OSHA SAY ABOUT AN EMPLOYEE WHO CAN DO HIS OR HER WORK FROM HOME, BUT NORMALLY DOES NOT WORK AT HOME?

The agency says you should count this as a day away from work. See OSHA’s FAQ #29:

Q: One of my employees broke his foot and is working from home. Should his time home be considered as days away from work or restricted work activity?

A: The time should be counted as days-away-from-work if the employee normally works at your establishment.

IF AN EMPLOYER SENDS AN EMPLOYEE WHO HAD BEEN EXPOSED TO COVID-19 HOME TO SELF-QUARANTINE, IS THAT RECORDABLE? AND IF SO, WHEN DO YOU START COUNTING DAYS AWAY FROM WORK?

When an employee has been exposed to an illness or a hazard in the workplace, the case is not recordable unless the employee exhibits signs and symptoms of an injury or illness. For cases of COVID-19, the employee must also test positive for the disease. However, once the employee exhibits signs and symptoms, you must begin counting the days away. In a situation where an employer sends the employee home to self-quarantine, the best practice is to begin counting the case on your Log when you send the employee home. That way, if the employee becomes ill with COVID-19, you have an accurate start date on your Log. If the employee does not become ill, you may delete or line out the entry on your Log. Keep in mind that states may handle this differently.

REPORTING FATALITIES AND HOSPITALIZATIONS TO OSHA

OSHA’s regulations at 29 CFR 1904.39 require all employers, even those who do not keep an injury or illness Log, to report directly to OSHA any work-related fatalities, hospitalizations, amputations, or the loss of an eye. Reports must be made either in person, by telephone to the nearest OSHA office, or by using an online reporting form on OSHA’s website. Reports must be made within eight hours of the work-related fatality, or within eight hours of the employer learning about it or learning the fatality was work-related. Reports must be made within 24 hours for work-related hospitalizations, amputations, or the loss of an eye.

IF AN EMPLOYEE DIES BECAUSE OF A WORK-RELATED EXPOSURE TO COVID-19, IS THIS REPORTABLE TO OSHA?

Yes. If the employee died because of a work-related case of COVID-19, the death must be reported to OSHA within eight hours.

WHAT IF THE EMPLOYEE DIES MORE THAN 30 DAYS AFTER BEING DIAGNOSED WITH COVID-19?

If the employee dies more than 30 days after contracting COVID-19, you would not have to report the death to OSHA.

IF AN EMPLOYEE IS HOSPITALIZED BECAUSE OF A WORK-RELATED EXPOSURE TO COVID-19, IS THIS REPORTABLE TO OSHA?

Yes. If the employee is formally admitted to the hospital for in-patient care or treatment because of a work-related, diagnosed case of COVID-19, you must report it to OSHA.

WHAT IF THE EMPLOYEE’S HOSPITALIZATION FOR COVID-19 COMES MORE THAN 24 HOURS AFTER THE EMPLOYEE IS EXPOSED TO THE DISEASE IN THE WORKPLACE?

You only need to report hospitalizations to OSHA that occur up to 24 hours after the workplace incident or exposure.

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