OSHA’s geographic presumption for work-related injuries

Date Posted: 03/13/2023
back injury

Under the geographic presumption, OSHA assumes that any injury at work is work-related for the OSHA 300 Log, unless a specific exception in 1904.5 applies. OSHA may consider incidents “work-related” even if the employee was not engaged in job tasks, the employer cannot identify a specific event or hazard, and the employer could not have prevented the injury.

When OSHA published the current recordkeeping standard in 2001, the agency noted that “all injuries and illnesses which result from events or exposures occurring to employees on the employer’s premises are presumed to be work related.” In addition, OSHA noted that “the nature of the activity which the employee is engaged in at the time of the event or exposure, the degree of employer control over the employee’s activity, the preventability of the incident, or the concept of fault do not affect the determination [of work-relatedness].”

Assumption of work-relatedness

Remembering that fault is not a consideration may help when recording cases like these:

  • An employee dropped his keys and injured his back while bending down to pick them up, resulting in medical treatment. Despite a pre-existing back condition, OSHA ruled that picking up his keys was an “event” in the workplace, so the injury was work-related.
  • An employee walking up stairs said his knee “popped” and he needed a rigid brace, which counts as medical treatment. OSHA ruled that simply walking up stairs was an “event” at work, so the case was work-related.

These cases illustrate how nearly any event can be work-related. In a Letter of Interpretation, OSHA stated that “normal body movements in the work environment, such as walking, bending down or sneezing, are ‘events’ which trigger the presumption for work-relatedness.”

What is the work environment?

Per 1904.5(b)(1), the “work environment” includes “the establishment and other locations where one or more employees are working or are present as a condition of their employment.” It does not matter if the employee is “on the clock,” only that the employee is present as a condition of employment.

Under the geographic presumption, incidents that occur before work or after punching out can be work-related, even if the employee was not performing job tasks. For example:

  • An employee arrived for work and, before punching in, used the restroom. He slipped and fell, needing sutures for a laceration. OSHA ruled that the injury was work-related because an employee who arrives for work is present as a condition of employment.
  • An employee punched out after work and, before leaving, brushed snow from her car. She slipped and sprained her knee. OSHA ruled that she was present as a condition of employment, so the injury was work-related.

Employers should familiarize themselves with the nine exceptions listed in 1904.5. However, even if the employer cannot identify a specific hazard, and even if the employee has a pre-existing condition, an injury will be work-related unless one of those narrow exceptions applies.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

Tracking work-related injuries can be challenging, and if a 300 Log entry changes, the employer must go back and update the entry. The Incident Center in the J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE helps you track recordables and other cases, allowing you to keep records for multiple locations and quickly update incidents that involve restrictions or days away.

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