Workplace injuries and illnesses cost employers billions of dollars each year. In 2020, workplace injuries cost U.S. employers $163.9 billion, or more than $1,100 per employee, according to the National Safety Council. The work productivity days lost in 2020 totaled 65 million.
To add insult to (literal) injury, if an incident meets specific requirements, the details must be provided to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Even one reportable injury can increase workers’ compensation costs significantly.
No one wants to be injured on the job; not the worker who experiences pain, suffering and financial hardship—and certainly not the employer.
In this article, we will review the differences between recordable, reportable and non-recordable OSHA events. We will also teach employers how to reduce the number of recordable incidents and how to mitigate potentially life-threatening on-site injuries.
The Differences in OSHA Reporting
Not all events are created (or disclosed) equally when it comes to OSHA.
OSHA rule 29 CFR 1094 stipulates that employers with 11 or more full-time equivalents (FTEs) must maintain injury records under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. However, the rules don’t apply in all cases. Currently, what makes a workplace injury or illness OSHA recordable, reportable or non-reportable is consistent across state borders. But how states handle these claims varies greatly.
An OSHA recordable event is a work-related illness or injury recorded internally on-site by a safety director. The event is reportable to OSHA on a 300 Log when the injury or illness is more serious and requires outside hospital care.
Some injuries are both recordable and reportable, while the exemptions for company size don’t have restrictions. OSHA states: “All employers under OSHA jurisdiction must report these incidents to OSHA, even employers who are exempt from routinely keeping OSHA records.”
Recordable and reportable safety events include:
- Workplace fatality,
- Loss of consciousness,
- Missed workday,
- Loss of an eye,
- Work-related hospitalization,
- Diagnosis of chronic disease,
- Bone fracture and
- Medical treatment beyond first aid.
An injury is non-reportable if you provide the worker with first aid. Examples of such care include:
- Non-prescription medications,
- Tetanus shots,
- Bandaging surface wounds,
- Hot/cold therapy,
- Non-rigid bandaging,
- Temporary immobilization,
- Fluid drained from nails and/or blisters,
- Eye patches,
- Foreign body removal and/or eye flush,
- Splinter removal and
- Finger guards.
Injuries outside these non-recordable events are reportable to OSHA. An OSHA 300 form must be completed within 8 hours for a work-related fatality and within 24 hours for work-related hospitalizations, amputation or eye loss.
Companies that fail to follow these compliance rules incur heavy costs. The consequences of even one OSHA reportable event can include:
- Expensive penalties;
- Increases in compensation premiums and health insurance benefits;
- Negative public and/or employee perception;
- Employee retention issues; and
- Productivity losses.
These costs indisputably affect an organization’s bottom-line. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce OSHA reporting.
How To Reduce OSHA Recordable Events
Early and ongoing interventions can reduce OSHA recordable events and make your workplace safer.
One way to avoid visits to the emergency department (ED) is by providing on-site first aid. An ED visit is the most common response to most common types of on-the-job injuries, including:
- Overexertion and/or muscle strain;
- Falling, slipping or tripping;
- Repetitive motion injuries; and
- Colliding with a fixed object.
These and other minor injuries comprised the majority of OSHA recordable events in 2022. Such simple injuries do not generally require a trip to the ED. However, if an ED trip occurs, these incidents end up becoming an OSHA event.
Unfortunately, the ED is still the most overused part of health care delivery. Recent statistics show that 70% of ED visits are unnecessary for patients with employer health care. As Truven Health Analytics, an IBM Watson Health Company, reported: “The inappropriate use of ED services is growing, resulting in care that is more costly and lacks continuity.”
The ED has long been the costliest point of entry into the American health care system. It’s the ease-of-use that makes an ED the go-to response for even minor incidents. While many urgent care facilities offer the same 24-hour access, it’s simply often easier to head to the local ED. This is particularly true for employers that lack an on-site medical provider to respond to a workplace injury.
While it may seem reasonable to send workers involved in a workplace accident to the ED, there are more proactive ways to improve your response.
We’ll look at three tools employers can use to improve on-site care and how they can help reduce the number of OSHA reportable events.
Telemedicine can help triage injuries and provide adequate on-site treatment, thereby reducing the number of employees who are sent to the ED. In many cases, this treatment will not trigger a reportable event because the injury falls under first aid of current OSHA rules.
Telemedicine gives you access to early intervention within minutes of an injury that is considerably cheaper than emergency care. Benefits include:
- Shorter aftercare,
- Faster return to work rulings,
- Lower health care costs,
- Lower workers’ compensation costs and
- Higher employee satisfaction due to accessible treatment.
Sometimes, telemedicine offerings can go beyond triaging to provide post-injury care and even physical therapy appointments remotely at the job site.
2. First Aid Education
While most employers train employees to safely use equipment, not all employers train their employees in first aid. Clear instructions and proper training can outline direct steps for employees to follow in an emergency.
A dedicated on-site first aid staff member is a good start. Furthermore, by educating all workers on basic first aid, you are empowering them to take preventative and proactive measures. OSHA itself even recommends that employers implement a first aid program to cut back on reportable injuries.
An injury that looks dramatic but isn’t serious—such as a trip and fall—may prompt a disproportionate response from fellow workers, thereby resulting in an OSHA reportable event. By teaching your employees to recognize what is and is not a serious injury, you are helping them determine what next steps to take rather than automatically rushing someone to the ED.
First aid training is especially helpful if the wrong action can severely worsen a minor injury. It’s natural for your employees to want to help each other. However, for injuries to sensitive areas like the spine and head, moving the injured employee could lead to serious complications, as Mayo Clinic notes. This is something you want to avoid, both for the sake of the employee and your bottom-line.
Similarly, first aid education helps employees feel safer in their work environment and encourages them to take more responsibility for their actions. It also allows employers to instruct their employees to act in ways that avoid OSHA reportables.
There are several first aid educational opportunities employers can utilize, including:
- In-person classes,
- General instructional booklets,
- Company-specific protocols,
- Webinars and
- Onboarding instructions.
Keep in mind that first aid education–unlike telemedicine–should not replace a visit to the ED or medical assistance in the event of an emergency.
3. Prevention, Inspection, Attention
Many employers use a preventative approach to reduce the number of OSHA reportable and recordable events. This strategy focuses on lowering the risk of incidents resulting from faulty equipment or untrained employees.
Employers can save $4 to $6 in medical care payments for every $1 spent on preventative safety measures, according to statistics provided by the Maine Department of Safety and Labor. Furthermore, workplaces with successful safety and health management systems reduce injury and illness costs by 20% to 40%. OSHA states: “Employers that implement effective safety and health programs may expect to significantly reduce injuries and illnesses and reduce the costs associated with these injuries, including workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses and lost productivity.”
Routine inspections of equipment and machinery can ensure a facility is up to code and safe to use. An internal safety inspector can also identify small issues before they develop into larger problems that can result in injuries. These regular inspections will not only protect the company from the unnecessary expense of OSHA reportable and recordable events but save on more significant machine repairs, workers’ compensation premiums and cost to workers’ well-being.
Safety education teaches employees where and when they are most likely to sustain an injury and what they can do to minimize that risk. Safety education also reminds employees how to properly use equipment, which can increase productivity.
These refreshers prevent employees from becoming complacent by increasing their levels of engagement. Research by the American Society of Safety Professionals indicates that keeping your employees engaged is crucial to overall safety, since inattention and inactivity often lead to workplace injuries.
Both maintenance and safety training communicate to employees that you are doing everything in your power to avoid injuries. In turn, this not only lowers the risk of employee incidents but also improves how employees view their employers.
Economists at the University of Warwick tested the idea that happy employees work harder. They found in their laboratory experiments that happy workers are up to 12% more productive than unhappy workers.
Leading by example when it comes to safety encourages employees to do the same. By contrast, when employees feel that they have a high risk of injury no matter what they do, they are less likely to take necessary precautions.
When used together, telemedicine, first aid and preventative steps are effective strategies to reduce OSHA incidents. Creating a safer workplace means not only training and educating workers on ways to prevent incidents in the first place but also how best to react when they do happen. Often, getting the proper care for injured workers doesn’t require a trip to the emergency department.
R. Michael Greiwe, M.D., is a practicing orthopaedic surgeon and the founder of OrthoLive, a digital, virtual and in-person musculoskeletal clinic providing 24/7/365 access to orthopaedic experts. OrthoLive covers more than 1 million lives across 2,300+ locations and three continents to improve outcomes for patients and savings for organizations. Greiwe attended the University of Notre Dame, where he won the Knute Rockne Award for excellence in academics and athletics. He completed his orthopaedic surgery training at the University of Cincinnati Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. In 2010, Greiwe completed his fellowship in shoulder, elbow and sports medicine at Columbia University.