Drunk Worker is Injured – Is It Recordable?

OSHA tries hard to help industry interpret its regulations, but sometimes the clarifications only confuse things.  That may be the case with a new interpretive letter from OSHA that looks at workers who are injured while they are intoxicated.

The regulations say “You are not required to record injuries and illnesses if the injury or illness is solely the result of personal grooming, self-medication for a non-work-related condition, or is intentionally self-inflicted.”   A lot of companies take the view that workers who are injured while drunk or under the influence of drugs were self medicating and would do not want to put that down as a recordable.

However, OSHA has stated that companies may not automatically assume that a worker who is injured while intoxicated should not be counted as a recordable.  The agency interpretation comes in response to a letter from a construction company asking it a worker who was an alcoholic and “self-medicating” his addiction at the time of an injury should be recorded on the 300 log.   OSHA says no, drinking is a symptom of alcoholism, not a treatment.

So employers need to be cautious about not reporting an injury to a worker who was drunk.  That is obvious.   But the interpretation may raise more questions than it answers.   Could a depressed worker be “self-medicating” with alcohol.  Obviously drinking is not an effective medication, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people from trying.   What about a worker who starts taking Oxycontin for a back injury and slides into abuse?   More than 2.6 million people use medical marijuana.  How many of them are actually treating a condition?   In Colorado, it may be a treatment, but in Texas, where I live, it is a crime.

And then there is the biggest can of worms – Painkillers generally mask symptoms; they don’t treat them.    One could argue that an alcoholic drinks to mask the symptoms of a medical condition.   Does that apply to a heroin user?  What about an Excedrin PM user?

So what should an employer do?

  1. Make sure your policies make it clear that workers in safety sensitive positions are prohibited from using illegal drugs or working while intoxicated.
  2. Consult HR law experts on whether workers in safety sensitive positions must report any prescription drugs that may impair their judgement or ability to work safely.
  3. Train workers on your policies and the dangers of working while under the influence.
  4. Implement an effective medical surveillance and intervention program, including a strong fit-for-duty program to intervene before an impaired worker is injured.

Do you need help setting up a medical surveillance or testing program? What about a post-incident injury management program?   contact us at  kwells@corehealthnet.com to find out how you can make sure your employees get the help they need and you have the right approach to minimizing recordables and workers comp.  

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