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How OSHA Defines Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses

Understanding OSHA's definition of work-related injuries and illnesses is crucial for workplace safety

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plays a vital role in ensuring workplace safety and health. One of OSHA's fundamental duties is defining and regulating work-related injuries and illnesses. In New York, understanding how OSHA defines occupational injury and illness is key to helping reduce safety risks and empowering employees to recognize and report injuries and illnesses as they occur.

OSHA's definitions for work-related injuries and illnesses

OSHA's definitions hold significant weight in the United States. They not only establish legal boundaries but also determine eligibility for benefits, outline restrictions and limitations, and more. This is particularly relevant when it comes to workers’ compensation in New York.

Understanding these definitions is not just about legal jargon but about practical implications. It can help you avoid missed opportunities and ensure your workplace injury claims are not jeopardized.

  • General Injuries and Illness. According to OSHA, an injury or illness is considered work-related if an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness. In general, OSHA defines an injury or illness as “an abnormal condition or disorder,” such as cuts, fractures, sprains, amputations, skin diseases, respiratory disorders, and many other types of bodily harm.
  • Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. OSHA’s definition encompasses a wide range of situations, including accidents, injuries from repetitive motions, exposure to harmful substances, and illnesses caused by work activities. With a few exceptions, an employee’s injury or illness must satisfy two criteria for OSHA to consider it to be work-related:
    • The event or events resulting in injury or illness took place "in the work environment."
    • This "specific event or exposure” is what "caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness."

Depending on the type and severity of the injury, OSHA may have other criteria to determine whether damage is work-related.

  • Work Environments. OSHA's definition emphasizes that injuries and illnesses must occur within the "work environment" to be considered work-related. So, what exactly is a “work environment” to OSHA? According to the administration, work environments are the physical location where work is performed and where employees are present or engaged in work-related activities. Every work environment poses hazards to workers, but some are more dangerous than others. In New York, industries most associated with hazardous work environments include:
    • Construction
    • Extraction
    • Transportation
    • Warehousing
    • Accommodations
    • Food Services
    • Manufacturing
    • Retail
    • Public Works
    • Emergency Services
  • Specific Events. In addition to occurring within the work environment, occupational injuries and illnesses must be caused or contributed to by a "specific event or exposure” due to work. This qualification distinguishes between injuries directly related to work activities and those that arise from personal factors unrelated to work. In this context, OSHA defines a “specific event” as an incident or accident that causes an injury, like a slip and fall, machinery malfunction, or vehicle collision. In New York, the type of events most often leading to occupational injuries include:
    • Physical Violence and Animal Attacks
    • Falls, Slips, and Trips
    • Motor Vehicle Crashes and PIT Accidents
  • Specific Exposures. On the other hand, “specific exposures” refer to prolonged or repeated or single incidents involving contact with hazardous substances or environmental conditions that result in illness or injury over time. Toxic exposure can cause irritation, blistering, nerve damage, cancer, and disease. Hazardous materials often encountered by workers in New York include:
    • Ammonia
    • Asbestos
    • Bisphenol A
    • Cadmium
    • Formaldehyde
    • Gasoline exhaust
    • Hydrogen Sulfide
    • Mercury
    • Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAs)
    • Potassium Iodide
    • Ricin
    • Tetrachloroethene (PERC)
    • Trichloroethene (TCE)
    • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Common types of work injuries

Occupational work injuries and illnesses can include just about any type of damage possible. However, in New York, the most common types of work-related injuries and illnesses reported include:

  • Burns, including thermal burns from hot surfaces or flames, chemical burns, or electrical burns.
  • Back Injuries.
  • Bone Fractures.
  • Respiratory Illnesses, such as asthma, bronchitis, or pneumonitis.
  • Noise-Induced Hearing Loss.
  • Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs), including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, or bursitis.
  • Cuts and Lacerations.
  • Chemical Exposure-Related Illnesses, including poisoning, dermatitis, asbestos, cancer, or respiratory issues.
  • Eye Injuries and Blindness.
  • Cold- and Heat-Related Illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and frostbite.
  • Work-related musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs), including strains, sprains, or tendonitis.

Even when injuries and illnesses seem like they are clearly a result of an employee’s occupation, to save money, some employers and workers’ compensation insurance providers will deny or reduce legitimate claims anyway. An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can build a strong case for compensation that cannot be ignored and fight aggressively to ensure maximum results.

Best practices for reporting work injuries in New York

When a worker is injured or made ill by their job, they are almost always entitled to compensation through New York Workers’ Compensation, civil court, or both. However, no matter what type of action a worker decides to take, an early step in the pursuit of compensation is reporting the injury or illness to their employer.

In New York, timely notification of work injuries is often necessary for successful workers’ compensation claims and injury lawsuits. To protect their right to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and other potential damages, injured employees should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for a consultation and follow best practices when reporting work injuries. Workers should report injuries to their supervisors, managers, or another authority in management. Telling a co-worker is not enough. Here’s some guidance:

  • Notify the employer right away. New York gives injured workers 30 days to tell employers what happened. While verbal notification is acceptable, it is usually best to notify employers in writing. A time-stamped email, a signed and dated letter, or even a fax is often an important piece of evidence in New York workers’ compensation claims and injury lawsuits.
  • Provide only necessary information. The type of information that should be included in an employee’s workplace injury report includes the worker’s name, contact information, date, time, and location of the incident, as well as a brief description of how the injury or illness occurred. The employer should also be informed about any witnesses. Workers should not discuss details of their injuries with their employers. Off-the-cuff comments and personal opinions about how incidents happened could be misconstrued or otherwise be used to deny or reduce claims.

In New York, injured workers have a rights

Despite OSHA standards, workplace accidents and toxic exposure incidents still happen. When a worker is injured in New York, consulting an experienced attorney promptly can help protect their rights and put them in a position to obtain the compensation they deserve. If you were injured in a New York work accident or developed an occupational illness, contact Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano LLP for a free case evaluation. A member of our team can listen to the details of what happened, answer your questions, and explain how our attorneys can protect your rights.

Our workers’ compensation lawyers have been helping injured New Yorkers navigate the workers’ comp claims process for over 90 years. We have a thorough knowledge of OSHA definitions and regulations as well as injury and workers’ compensation laws. We know how the regulations work and how to make them work for you. Contact us today. Our attorneys are ready to fight for you.

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