OSHA provides guidance on work-related exception

Alcohol intoxication does not meet the definition of self-medicating

Posted April 21, 2016

In a recently published Letter of Interpretation (LOI) dated March 21, 2016, OSHA provided clarification on determining if an injury or illness would apply to the work-related exception in Section 1904.5(b)(2)(vi). Specifically, the guidance addresses injuries that occur when an employee is self-medicating with alcohol for a non-work-related condition.

In the LOI, the employer presented the following scenario:

An employee sustained an injury when his hand was caught between two objects. After receiving treatment for the injury, the employee was immediately given a post-accident drug test. The results of the drug test indicated the employee was intoxicated from alcohol.

For purposes of this response, OSHA presumed the employee’s injury was caused by an event at work, and met at least one of the general recording criteria in Section 1904.7.

The employer asked the following question:

Does this injury meet the exemption in Section 1904.5(b)(2)(vi), given the worker was self-medicating with alcohol for his non-work related condition of alcoholism?

In response OSHA said:

No. OSHA’s regulation at Section 1904.5(b)(2)(vi) states “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.” Under this exception, an employee’s negative reactions to a medication brought from home to treat a non-work-related condition would not be considered a work-related illness, even though it first manifested at work. See, the preamble to the final rule revising OSHA’s recordkeeping regulation, 66 Federal Register 5951, January 19, 2001.

In analyzing this question, OSHA consulted with physicians from the agency’s Office of Occupational Medicine and Nursing. The physicians concluded that the intake of alcohol does not treat the disorder of alcoholism. Instead, drinking alcohol is a manifestation of the disorder. Accordingly, the injury described in the scenario above does not meet the exception in Section 1904.5(b)(2)(vi) for self-medication.

Please note that during the 2001 rulemaking to revise the recordkeeping regulation; several commenters suggested a work-related exception for employees engaged in illegal activities, horseplay, or failure to follow established work rules or procedures. However, in the preamble to the final rule, OSHA explained that it would not adopt this exception because excluding these injuries and illnesses would be inconsistent with OSHA’s longstanding reliance on the geographic presumption to establish work-relatedness. Furthermore, the Agency believes that many of the working conditions pointed to in these comments involve occupational factors, such the effectiveness of disciplinary policies and supervision. Thus, recording such incidents may serve to alert both the employer and employees to workplace safety and health issues. See, 66 Federal Register 5958.


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