OSHA Recordkeeping Has No Normal Body Function Exemption

Date: Feb 09, 2004

Under OSHA's Injury and Illness Recordkeeping Rule, an injury or illness is "work-related" if an event at work either caused or contributed to the injury or illness, or significantly aggravated a pre-existing non-work-related condition, subject to eight specific exemptions. According to the preamble to the final rule: "These eight exceptions are the only exceptions to the presumption permitted by the final rule."

Some had expressed a view that there should/must be and, therefore, was some further unstated but implied exemption from the geographic presumption for injuries or illnesses caused by common, non-demanding tasks (e.g., walking) or common events (e.g., sneezing). In a January 13 interpretation letter (pasted in below), OSHA has confirmed that, in its view, there is no such further unstated but implied exemption. Carried to its logical conclusion, this interpretation could easily result in many if not most fatal heart attacks at work being work-related.

For more information regarding "work-related" injury or illness, please contact Larry Halprin at 202-434-4177 or by email at halprin@khlaw.com.

01/13/2004 - Determining work-relatedness when the work event or exposure is only one of the discernable causes; not the sole or predominant cause. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

  • Standard Number: 1904; 1904.5(a); 1904.5(b)(4); 1904.6
  • --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any situation not delineated within the original correspondence.

    January 13, 2004

    William K. Principe
    Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLC
    Suite 2400
    230 Peachtree Street, N.W.
    Atlanta, Georgia 30303-1557

    Dear Mr. Principe:

    Thank you for your comments pertaining to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting requirements contained in 29 CFR Part 1904. Please accept my apology for the delay in our response.

    Specifically, you ask OSHA to clarify in each scenario you describe; whether the employee who sustains an injury or illness while he or she is engaged in an activity such as walking or bending is considered work-related. As you note, a case is presumed work-related under the recordkeeping rule if an event or exposure in the work environment is a discernable cause of the injury or illness. The work event or exposure need only be one of the discernable causes; it need not be the sole or predominant cause. The preamble to the rule contains a passage that is relevant in determining whether this presumption applies in the scenarios in your letter. The preamble states, in relevant part, as follows:

    In applying [the presumption of work-relatedness],the question employers must answer is whether there is an identifiable event or exposure which occurred in the work environment and resulted in the injury or illness. "Thus, if an employee trips while walking across a level factory floor, the resulting injury is considered work-related under the geographic presumption because the precipitating event - the tripping accident - occurred in the workplace. The case is work-related even if the employer cannot determine why the employee tripped, or whether any particular workplace hazard caused the accident to occur. "

    In each of the eight scenarios in your letter, the activity engaged in by the employee at the time of the injury (walking, tripping, climbing a staircase, sneezing, bending down) is an "event" which would trigger application of the presumption. In the absence of evidence to overcome the presumption, the injury is work-related. Thus, in the absence of evidence to overcome the presumption, an ankle injury caused by a trip that occurred while the employee was walking down a level seamless hallway at work is work-related, regardless of whether the accident is attributable to a defect in the hall. By the same reasoning, if the activity of walking down a hallway caused the employee's knee to buckle or to sprain the ankle, the injury is work-related. If an injury or illness did not result from an identifiable event or exposure in the work environment, but only manifested itself during work, the injury is not work-related. For example, if the employee had a non-occupational event or exposure, and there is no evidence of a work-related event or exposure that was a cause of the injury or illness, the injury should not be recorded.

    You also ask whether the determination of work-relationship would be affected by the existence of a pre-existing condition, whether work-related or non-work-related, affecting the same body part that is injured. Under the rule, a pre-existing condition is an injury or illness resulting solely from a non-work-related event or exposure. If an employee's pre-existing condition is worsened as a result of an event or exposure at work, the case is not work-related unless the work event or exposure "significantly aggravated" the preexisting condition (i.e., the case meets the recording criteria contained in Section 1904.5(b)(4). If the employee with a pre-existing work-related injury to a body part suffers a subsequent work-related injury of the same type to the same body part, the subsequent injury is recordable (assuming the general recording criteria are met) if it is a "new case" as discussed in Section 1904.6.

    Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. In addition, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep appraised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please contact the Division of Recordkeeping Requirements, at 202-693-1702.


    Frank Frodyma
    Acting Director
    Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis