June 13, 2024

OSHA Clarifies Difference Between Recordable, Non-Recordable Musculoskeletal Injuries

In a recent memo, OSHA provides guidance for determining whether musculoskeletal illnesses and injuries that are treated only through first aid, forms of massage known as active release techniques (ART), or exercise and stretching are recordable under the agency’s recordkeeping regulation. According to OSHA, work-related musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses “are generally not recordable if the only treatment given is first aid.” Because OSHA considers ART to be first aid, employers are not required to record injuries treated only with ART as long as the injuries do not meet other criteria, the memo explains. When exercise or stretching are recommended to treat a work-related injury or illness, OSHA clarifies that those cases are recordable as “therapeutic exercise is considered medical treatment.”

Work-related illnesses and injuries meet OSHA’s general recording criteria If they result in death, loss of consciousness, time away from work, restricted work, job transfer, or medical treatment beyond first aid. First aid, the memo explains, “is generally understood to mean the initial care of an injury or illness.” Under the recordkeeping rule, 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1904, first aid treatments include the use of nonprescription medications at nonprescription strengths, using non-rigid means of support for injured body parts, and massages.

The memo explains that ART is “a patented movement-based massage technique that targets soft tissues” and “is practiced by licensed healthcare professionals,” such as physical therapists or chiropractors. Since 2006, OSHA has considered ART to be a form of massage for recordkeeping purposes, and therefore a form of first aid, “regardless of the professional status of the person providing treatment.”

Similarly, the memo states that exercise and stretching routines are not recordable when undertaken for precautionary purposes or to treat musculoskeletal injuries that are not work related, even when the worker uses employer-provided health programs or begins the routine at the recommendation of a healthcare professional. However, exercise and stretching routines performed as treatment for work-related injuries are recordable, even when conducted outside the workplace.

OSHA acknowledges each criterion for injury or illness recordability “operates independently” from the others. For example, a musculoskeletal injury treated via first aid is still recordable if it results in work restrictions. “If the application of first aid to a work-related musculoskeletal injury or illness keeps the employee from performing one or more routine functions of the job, or from working the full workday the employee would otherwise have been scheduled to work,” the memo states, “then the employee's work has been restricted and the case is recordable.”

More information is available in the OSHA memo.