By Mark A. Lies, II and Ilana R. Morady

iStock_000004162096LargeAs many employers know, California frequently does things a little differently than other jurisdictions. Cal/OSHA is no exception.

When it comes to injury/illness reporting, Cal/OSHA (a.k.a. “the Division”) requires “any serious injury or illness, or death” to be reported within 8 hours to the nearest District Office. Serious injury or illness means any incident requiring inpatient hospitalization in excess of 24 hours (for other than medical observation) or in which an employee suffers a loss of any member of the body or any serious degree of permanent disfigurement.

Cal/OSHA’s published guidance explains that this reporting requirement applies to “work-related or suspected work-related” incidents. Certain Cal/OSHA District Offices, however, are taking the position that all serious injuries or illnesses and deaths must be immediately reported, regardless of whether they are work-related.

This is a significant departure from federal OSHA reporting requirements, which only apply to work-related incidents. It means that employers in California face potential citations if they do not report incidents such as heart attacks or brain aneurisms that have no relation to the work environment.

While it may seem unnecessary and illogical to have to report non-work-related incidents to the agency, a recent case decision from the Cal/OSHA Occupational and Safety Appeals Board confirms that Cal/OSHA’s broadly worded reporting requirement — “Every employer shall report immediately by telephone or telegraph to the nearest District Office of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health any serious injury or illness, or death, of an employee occurring in a place of employment or in connection with any employment”– does not limit reports to work-related incidents.

The Board decision (In the Matter of the Appeal of Honeybaked Hams, Docket 13-R3D1-0941, June 25, 2014) upholds a citation issued to the employer who did not report the death of an employee who suffered a brain aneurism. The Board stated that the reporting regulation, 8 CCR 342, “requires reporting of employee injuries, illnesses and deaths which occur on an employer’s premises, even if they are not work related.” The Board acknowledged Cal/OSHA’s guidance to the contrary, but found that the guidance cannot be relied upon by employers.

This is of course very important information for all California employers covered by Cal/OSHA. What is concerning, however, is that the various Cal/OSHA’s District Offices are apparently not all on the same page. We are seeing clients who have had Cal/OSHA tell them they must report non-work-related incidents, and other clients who have had Cal/OSHA actually refuse to accept the information of reports that do not involve work-related incidents. Either way, Cal/OSHA will not investigate incidents that are unrelated to the work environment. However employers must be aware that they should still be reporting these incidents and may be subject to citation if they fail to do so.