Workers’ compensation programs exist throughout the country to assist individuals injured in work-related accidents to obtain medical care and lost earnings while recovering from their injuries. Administered at the state level, these programs developed as an alternative to forcing injured workers to file lawsuits against employers to obtain reimbursement for medical care. Through the years, one federal agency, OSHA, has made itself a factor in determining how well state workers’ compensation programs are servicing the needs of injured workers.
The OSHA workers’ comp influence
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration came into being following the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The mission of the agency is to establish and enforce health and safety standards in workplaces throughout the country.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act specifically prohibits OSHA from interfering directly with state workers’ compensation programs, so it cannot impose a requirement that a state pay benefits for a particular workplace. It can, however, impose standards pertaining to employee exposure to hazardous chemicals and other substances, which it has done.
For example, OSHA has established limits for worker exposure to specific chemicals and airborne materials because they can lead to illness. The following are some of the substances for which standards have been set:
- Vinyl chloride.
- Radon gas.
The health standards set by OSHA for hazardous substances and chemicals imposes an obligation on the part of employers to develop protocols and procedures to protect workers from harm. From the perspective of workers’ compensation claims, exposure to a hazard known to cause health issues could provide the basis for a claim for benefits by workers requiring medical care and treatment.
For access to OSHA’s publications, click here.
OSHA reporting regulations and state workers’ compensation
Confusion about how direct a role OSHA plays in influencing workers’ compensation could stem from a program the federal agency began several years ago to collect data on workplace injuries and illnesses. The purpose was to provide OSHA with a better understanding of how it could better protect the health and safety of the American workforce.
The regulations pertaining to this program require that employers keep records of and report workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Employers with 10 or more workers must report work-related serious injuries and illnesses to OSHA, but there are exceptions to the reporting requirement.
As a general rule, employers must report illnesses and injuries requiring medical treatment beyond routine first aid. Simply because a worker visits a doctor for evaluation of an injury does not make it a reportable incident for purposes of OSHA. The following must be reported to OSHA:
- Job-related fatalities that occur within 30 days of an accident or illness.
- Worker hospitalizations within 24 hours of a work-related incident.
- Amputations from work-related injuries or illnesses.
- Loss of an eye from a work-related injury or illness.
Although an illness or injury might not be reportable to OSHA by an employer, it could still entitle the worker to benefits under their state’s workers’ compensation program. It is important for workers who are aware of OSHA reporting regulations to report even minor injuries or medical conditions to their employers. Such incidents might not be OSHA reportable, but a worker who fails to notify their employer could miss out on receiving workers’ compensation benefits.
State workers’ compensation
It can appear at times as though OSHA and workers’ compensation are related, but the simple fact is that they are not. OSHA focuses primarily on workplace safety, while workers’ compensation addresses the need for workers to receive the medical care they need without concerns about how they are going to pay for it.
Reporting an injury to an employer protects the worker’s right to benefits under state compensation laws. The fact it might also satisfy the employer’s obligation to maintain injury and illness records and to report serious incidents to OSHA is secondary to the primary concern of an injured worker to preserve and protect their right to workers’ compensation benefits.
Consult a workers’ comp attorney for help
Once an illness or injury related to work has been reported to an employer, the worker should consult with a workers’ compensation attorney for legal advice. The guidance of an attorney can help workers understand their rights under OSHA and workers’ comp.