It’s been two years since OSHA’s revised rule for recording work-related injuries and illnesses went into effect. Time enough to get used to the new system and let go of the old. With the latest round of revisions to be launched in January 2004, it’s time for employers to settle down and not have to wonder what new recordkeeping twist they will need to comply with.


OSHA’s 2001 publication of Part 1904 actually completed a plan begun in 1994. In May of that year, the agency implemented a rule requiring employers to report fatalities and multiple hospitalization incidents orally to OSHA within eight hours of the incident.

Then, in March 1997, a second rule giving OSHA the authority to request injury and illness data from individual employers went into effect. That first year, OSHA sent letters to 80,000 general industry employers requesting injury and illness data. The 2002 data initiative requested the information from 93,000 — including 13,000 construction industry employers. OSHA uses this data for focusing inspections on employers with higher than average incidence rates. Companies with incidence rates of 14.0 or more receive a wall-to-wall inspection. The national average incidence rate for 2001 is 2.8.

Compared with the previous recordkeeping rule, the revised rule provides more detailed direction on how and when to record work-related injuries and illnesses. The requirements are presented in a question/answer format that incorporates many recording issues previously addressed in the “blue book” and interpretative letters.

Hearing loss and MSDs

Even as employers began to record workplace injuries and illnesses in 2002 on new forms using new criteria, two issues — hearing loss and musculoskeletal disorders — had to be resolved.

  • Work–related hearing loss — When OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping rule went into effect on January 1, 2002, recordable hearing loss cases were documented by checking either the “Injury” column or “All other illnesses” column, depending on the cause of the hearing loss. Cases that resulted in a standard threshold shift of 10 dB or more were recordable. As of January 1, 2003, an amendment to the rule revised the recordable criteria to a 10 dB shift and an overall hearing level that is 25 dB or more above audiometric zero.

    A further change to recording hearing loss goes into effect on January 1, 2004, when employers will have a specific hearing loss column on the 300 Log to document these cases. This new column, (M)(5) “Hearing loss,” is to be used for all recordable hearing loss cases, whether they are the result of the cumulative effects of high noise levels or the immediate loss of hearing caused by explosions or any other single-incident loud noise.

  • Musculoskeletal disorders — For two years, OSHA delayed compliance with the rule’s musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) provisions. The delays didn’t mean that employers weren’t required to record work-related MSDs. Rather, these cases had to be recorded based on the general recordable criteria as any other injury or illness. In June 2003, OSHA issued a rule deleting the entire MSD provision at 1904.12, which was never actually activated. Employers that have work-related MSDs will continue to record them just as they have been in the past.

    Year three — status quo

    With the decisions relating to hearing loss and MSDs behind them, OSHA has no further major changes looming on the horizon for the recordkeeping rule. Rather, when issues arise that require recording direction, OSHA plans to issue clarifications via interpretative letters and revising its compliance directive, CPL 2-0.131. This directive, Recordkeeping Policies and Procedures Manual, outlines enforcement policies and procedures, penalty schedules, and answers many recordkeeping questions. It is available on OSHA’s Web site at

    SIDEBAR: Recordkeeping FAQs

    New recordkeeping situations always arise that don’t seem to have clear–cut answers in the regulations. Here are clarifications that address some common recordkeeping issues:

  • Size exemption is based on employee count of the previous year. Whether an employer is subject to the recordkeeping rule is based, in part, on the size of the entire company — not the size of an individual establishment within the company. When an employer has 10 or fewer employees at all locations and at all times during the calendar year, the small employer exemption applies. However, if at any time during the year, the total number of employees exceeds 10, then the employer has to keep injury and illness records, unless the business is classified in a low hazard SIC code.

  • Carrying a case over to next year. Occasionally, a case will be ongoing from one year to the next. Each case has to be recorded only once — in the year for which it occurs. When a case extends into the next year or beyond the time when the employer has to summarize cases for posting on the 300A, a good–faith effort must be made to estimate the number of days before the case is resolved. Once the outcome is known, go back to the log and update the entry to reflect the actual case. An ongoing case is never rewritten on the next year’s log.

  • Calendar day count for all employees. Using calendar days makes it easier to calculate a case and evaluate its severity. Counting calendar days for all employee injuries and illnesses, whether an employee is part–time or full–time, provides more consistent data based on the length of the disability instead of being dependent on the employee’s work schedule. Never count partial days.