According to OSHA’s Recordkeeping regulation (29 CFR 1904), employers are responsible to record occupational injuries and illnesses – “occupational” referring to injuries and illnesses that are the result of an event or exposure in the work environment which either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness.

Injuries tend to be more straightforward when it comes to identifying them and determining if they are pre-existing.  Injuries could be cuts, abrasions, slips or falls, muscle strains and sprains, or broken bones to name a few.  In most cases, when your employee walks up to you with a bloody finger, it’s clear that the issue was on-the-job.

Illnesses, on the other hand, can be much more difficult to sort out, and OSHA puts it in your hands to figure out.  According to OSHA, when it’s not obvious if the illness occurred in the workplace, you must evaluate the employee’s work duties and environment to decide whether or not an event or exposure caused or aggravated the condition.occupational illness, occupational safety, workplace safety

So, let’s break this down.  First, we’ll look at how to evaluate the employee’s work duties and environment.

How do you know if the employee came home from his weekend camping trip with the case of poison ivy or if he caught it on the job?  That one may be easier to determine than others, but you can begin by asking a set of question to help determine if the case is work-related.

  1. What is the general work environment, including physical location and equipment the employee uses regularly?
  2. What are the job duties of the employee?
  3. What substances is the employee exposed to?
  4. Have there been other cases/incidents of the same illness with employees working in the same location or working together?

It is still a bit grey, but if you know for sure the employee is not exposed to any airborne hazards but is diagnosed with asbestosis, then you may determine that illness occurred from renovating his home and not from the work environment.  Unfortunately, even if the employee has no business hanging out in an area where there is chemical exposure, should they become injured in that environment while on the clock, that is still a recordable incident.   Below is a chart of common workplace illnesses and their potential causes that you can use as a reference.

Illness Potential Cause in Work Environment
Contact dermatitis, eczema, or rash Environmental exposure to primary irritants, chemicals, sensitizers, poisonous plants such as poison ivy


Chrome Ulcers Exposure to hexavalent chromium


Heat Stress/Heat Related Illness Exposure to high temperature working environments such as foundry workers or outdoor workers


Cold Stress/Cold Related Illness Exposure to low temperature working environments, outdoor workers


Radiation Poisoning Exposure to radiation in a lab setting or nuclear energy facility, welders (welding flash, non-ionizing radiation)


Silicosis Prolonged exposure to silica dust


Asbestosis Prolonged exposure to asbestos


Pneumonitis / Farmers Lung Exposure to airborne substances such as mold, dust, and chemicals


Occupational Asthma Exposure to airborne substances such as animal substances, chemicals, enzymes, metals, plant substances and respiratory irritants


Tuberculosis Exposure to others with TB, in hospital and medical settings, correctional facilities, or affected co-workers


Poisoning Prolonged exposure or exposure to high levels of lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, benzene, carbon tetrachloride, insecticides, or formaldehyde


Hearing Loss Prolonged exposure to high levels of noise


Muscular Skeletal Disorders or Sprains and Strains  

Manual material handling, slips and falls, repetitive motion


Regular hazard and job safety assessments, and getting to know your employees in general, can help you determine their exposure levels – and give you a better feel for what they are doing outside the work environment.  Accident investigations after the fact can also help you prevent future incidents down the road.When it comes to pre-existing conditions and occupational illnesses, there are two results that can help you to determine if the illness was aggravated by on-the-job exposure or activities.  The first of these is a fatality, provided that the preexisting illness would likely not have resulted in death but for the occupational event or exposure.  An example would be a heat or cold related illness that resulted in an employee fatality.  The second result is a change or increase in medical treatment that is necessitated by a workplace event or exposure.  For example, an employee that has pre-existing asthma that is made more severe by their work environment.

Although occupational illnesses can be more difficult to assess than an occupational injury, one thing is clear…almost all occupational illnesses can be prevented with the use of engineering controls, best safety practices, and awareness.  Training employees to understand the hazards, and how to prevent exposure to the hazards through proper personal protective equipment or other means is your best defense against occupational illness.

Attending the National Safety Council Congress & Expo September 26 – October 2, 2015?  The keynote session The Burden of Occupational Illnesses:  Challenges and Solutions will be presented by the Director of NIOSH, Dr. John Howard and the Assistant Secretary of Labor and Health, OSHA, Dr. David Michaels on Tuesday, September 30.

Let’s talk about how we can help train your employees on hazard awareness and best safety practices to prevent occupational illness and injuries with online, DVD or onsite training options – give us a call, toll free at 844.528.4486 or visit today!


Bureau of Labor Statistics – Injuries, Illnesses and Fatalities – Occupational Injuries and Illnesses

American Family Physicians – Occupational Skin Disease

OSHA – Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness

OSHA – OSHA Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements

OSHA – Health & Safety Topics