Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at

October 29, 1999

William K. Principe
Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLC
Attorneys At Law
Suite 2400
230 Peachtree Street, NW
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-1557

Dear Mr. Principe:

Thank you for your letter of March 22, 1999 requesting an Interpretive Opinion Letter addressing recordability of the aggravation of a previous injury. I will cite the Recordkeeping Guidelines for Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (Blue Book) whenever possible.

Scenario: While on break in the women's locker room in a bathroom stall, an employee turned around and heard a pop in her left knee and felt pain. During investigation, she stated that she had been feeling discomfort in her left knee for several weeks and had bought a neoprene knee brace for it, although she was not wearing it at the time of the incident. She also stated that she believed that the discomfort had been caused by increased walking while Christmas shopping and decorating. The employee was treated at the industrial clinic and placed on restricted work activity status. The results of a subsequent MRI indicated a ligament sprain.

Question: Is this case considered to be work-related and recordable?

Answer: As explained in Q&A C-7 on Page 34 of the Blue Book, "The general rule is 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. This presumption is rebuttable (See question C-8 which follows.) However, 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."

In addition, as explained in Q&A B-14 on Page 31 of the Blue Book, "An employee's physical defect or preexisting condition does not affect the determination of recordability. If such a case results from an event or exposure in the work environment and meets the other criteria for recordability, the employer must enter it on the OSHA forms without regard to the employee's preexisting physical condition. If the injury results solely from a physical defect (i.e., employee falls while walking when trick knee gives way AND there is no environmental factor), it is not occupational. However, if the work environment or a work event contributes to the incident (i.e., employee steps on a stone or slips, trick knee gives way, and he falls), then any resulting injury is occupational."

Furthermore, as explained in Q&A B-13 on Page 31 of the Blue Book, "Employers should record each case resulting from a new event (such as a slip, trip, fall, or overexertion) and each exposure that results in a recordable work injury or illness regardless of the employee's preexisting condition." See also Page 40, Q&A E-6, which states that " is sufficient for the exposure to be a contributing and/or aggravating factor to the illness for the case to be recordable."

To determine recordability in the scenario you describe, the employer will have to determine if something within the confines of the bathroom stall contributed to or aggravated the preexisting condition of the left knee. For example, did a slippery floor cause or contribute to the injury? If so, the case is work related and would be recordable because it involved restricted work activity. If not, the case is not work related and need not be recorded.

Question: Explain why a case that has nothing to do with workplace safety and health should be recorded.

Answer: As stated on Page 27 of the Blue Book, "The relatively simple OSHA recording boundaries assure a valid, consistent, and uniform recordkeeping system that is capable of producing reliable statistical information." Again, as explained in Q&A C-7 on Page 34 of the Blue Book, "There are cases which occur on the employer's premises that do not seem to have anything to do with the work, but must still be recorded to maintain the simplicity of the recording criteria....These are included to keep relatively simple recording boundaries necessary for maintaining a workable system which can be used by the... million[s] of employers and...employees subject to the recordkeeping regulations." Furthermore, as Q&A B-13 on Page 31 states in pointing out that "...preexisting conditions usually do not affect determinations of recordability under the OSH Act[,]....This is essential to the maintenance of a workable system that produces statistics that accurately reflect the incidence (and not prevalence) of work injuries and illnesses."

I hope you find this information useful. If you have any further questions or comments, please contact the Division of Recordkeeping Requirements at: (202) 693-1702.


Cheryle A. Greenaugh
Director, Directorate of Information Technology