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OSHA clarifies self-medicating rule

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to keep accurate records of workplace accidents, injuries and illnesses, but there are certain exceptions. For example, illnesses or injuries that are self-inflicted or caused by workers in Louisiana and elsewhere self-medicating for conditions unrelated to their work do not have to be recorded. A California construction company asked OSHA if drug use or alcohol consumption qualified as self-medication after a worker who was injured in an accident was discovered to have been drinking, and the federal safety agency clarified its position in a March 21 interpretation letter.

The construction company had maintained that the worker concerned suffered from alcoholism and was therefore medicating himself by drinking. However, OSHA came to a different conclusion. In the March 21 interpretation letter, the safety agency pointed out that drinking was a symptom of alcoholism rather than its treatment.

OSHA also explained that there was a territorial bias or geographic presumption when determining if an illness or injury was work-related. The agency's position is that keeping accurate records of even accidents caused by horseplay or illegal activities may help employers to identify areas of concern that may otherwise have remained undiscovered and address safety issues in a more proactive manner.

Keeping overhead costs under control is a constant challenge for most businesses, and employers are sometimes reluctant to classify an accident or illness as work-related because they are concerned about increases to their workers' compensation insurance premiums. When an injured worker's claim for benefits is denied by an employer or insurer, attorneys with experience in this area could provide assistance in a subsequent appeals hearing.

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