What is OSHA’s Record-Keeping Standard for Employee Exposure?

When many people first think of the phrase “OSHA record-keeping,” they may often first think of the log of occupational injuries and illnesses that are required under OSHA’s 29 CFR104 rule. However, the agency has another record-keeping standard as well. This guideline does not involve the collection of statistical data, as 29 CFR requires. Instead, this rule is much more literal and requires actually retaining and storing certain records, sometimes for as long as 30 years. Below, our Baton Rouge workers’ compensation lawyer explains more.

What is “Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records?”

29 CFR 1910.1020 is often considered a companion standard to OSHA’s hazard communication rule. The hazard communication rule states that when an employee is going to be exposed to hazards, such as chemicals, they must be informed of the danger and take certain precautions when they work with the danger. The “Access to Exposure and Medical Records” rule, however, allows an employee to review their level of exposure to the danger, as well as any medical records that may provide information about whether their health was impacted by the level of exposure. 

While hazard communication only addresses chemical hazards, the access rule is different. The access rule also addresses other dangers too, such as viruses and fungi, bacteria, and physical dangers like vibration or radiation. OSHA’s table found at 1910.1000 lists hundreds of potentially dangerous substances that include vegetable oil mist and carbon dioxide.

How Long Must Records Be Kept?

There are certain dangers that will create an exposure record. These include temperature extremes, vibration, noise, and particulate matter. Once an exposure record is created, it must be retained for 30 years. Not all elements will create an exposure record. For example, a normal temperature reading in an office would not create an exposure record. 

OSHA has clarified that an exposure record should identify and describe the level of exposure to a harmful physical agent or a toxic substance. For example, HVAC systems often have to be tested for an air quality evaluation. If the results of that testing show that the system contains non-toxic bacteria not harmful to workers, an employee exposure record would not be created.

Known Hazards

If an employer tests for any substance that has known negative effects on a person’s health, it is considered an employee exposure record by the OSHA. Even when the level of a hazardous substance is below the permissible exposure limit (PEL) or action level, an employee exposure record must still be kept. This is because the purpose of a record is not to show that levels of dangerous substances are high. The purpose is merely to show that occupational exposure exists.

Still, if exposure is below a certain level, employers are typically not required to continue monitoring the dangerous substance. In most cases, monitoring does not need to continue unless there is a work practice or process that could increase the level of exposure for workers. On the other hand, when an exposure exists and it is below the PEL, but above the action level, an employer must typically continue periodic monitoring. Any monitoring then becomes an exposure record.

When an employer can show that a harmful substance is not handled, used, generated, stored, or present in the workplace in any way that differs from other non-occupational situations.

Retention Requirements

The record-keeping requirement does not outline any specific manner, form, or process an employer must use to preserve the record. The only requirement is that the information within the record must be preserved so it can be retrieved in the future. The only exception to this is chest X-ray films, which must be preserved in their original state.

Lastly, OSHA has also stated that employee questionnaires are not considered exposure records. This is because questionnaires do not usually indicate exposures. However, if a questionnaire addresses medical information, they are considered employee medical records under the same record-keeping requirement. For example, under the respiratory protection standard, the employee questionnaire is not an exposure record but, instead, a medical record.

Our Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in Baton Rouge Can Keep You in Compliance

At Big River Trial Attorneys, our Baton Rouge workers’ compensation lawyer can make sure your company is in compliance with OSHA’s record-keeping requirement so you, your employees, and your business are not negatively impacted. To learn more about this requirement and how to comply with it, fill out our online form to schedule a consultation.

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