Bon Voyage: Recordable travel incidents

Before the covid-19 pandemic, many workers were required to travel for their jobs. What happens if a worker gets injured while traveling? Does the injury fall under the purview of the employer? If so, must injuries and illnesses be reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration? It’s worth knowing how to reduce risk.

According to OSHA, work-related activities commence the moment an employee leaves their home. However, if the worker reports to the office prior to the trip, travel begins when they leave the office. One’s normal commute does not qualify as a work-related activity. Injuries and illnesses must be reported to OSHA if they are deemed to be work-related.

If an employee takes a side trip or personal detour from a reasonably direct route to the work destination and sustains an injury or illness, the incident is not considered work-related. Side trips that fall into this category include vacations, sightseeing excursions or visiting family or friends. However, deviating from the route to stop for gas and food are considered normal activities involved in business travel.

If the trip involves airplane, bus or train travel, injuries or illnesses sustained while being a passenger are considered work-related. This also applies to walking and waiting in airports, bus and train stations.

Slips, trips and falls make up 15% of all accidental, on-the-job fatalities and countless injuries, and many occur during work-related travel. Stress-related ailments from carrying bags or luggage need to be reported, too. Special attention is given to traveling employees and these circumstances. The same is true of sharing precautions to prevent these injures.

When traveling, workers should avoid overpacking luggage to ensure items are not too heavy to carry long distances. If employees are required to travel with heavy items or bulky equipment, they should opt for travel containers or luggage with wheels. Most hotels, airports and train and bus stations have trolleys available. When navigating these locations, avoid stairs and use elevators whenever possible.

When employees are on foot—whether traveling or navigating a job site in their home territory—they need to pay attention to surroundings and where they are walking. Working away from home in unfamiliar surroundings, it is extra important to be on the lookout for wet or oily walkways, floor surfaces in disrepair, loose or unanchored mats or rugs, and weather hazards, such as ice, rain and snow.

When workers are away from home in hotels or short-term rentals, only injuries or illness sustained at the hotel during work hours are considered a recordable incident. However, when commuting back and forth between meetings or job sites, incidents involving employees are considered work-related. There are exceptions to this if the worker is stationed at an extended-stay job post or a long-term position.

Many work-related travel injuries occur as a result of motor vehicle accidents, which are the leading cause of occupational death. They are one of the leading causes of injury and death off the job, as well. Therefore, it is important to take some extra precautions when operating a vehicle, whether in a work capacity or on personal time.

All drivers can follow safe driving strategies to greatly reduce the risk of an accident occurring. When operating a motor vehicle, individuals must have a valid driver’s license for the correct class of vehicle. This ensures the driver has at least met the state’s skill requirements. Additionally, there should be a measure of familiarization with all relevant traffic and safety laws. Beyond this, drivers must keep a constant lookout and check for blindspot areas, maintain safe speeds and always wear their seatbelt.

Many motor vehicle accidents are linked to distracted driving. As a result, it is imperative for drivers to turn off cellphones and place them in an inaccessible location while driving. In the event an individual needs to keep their phone on (where allowable by law), they must use a hands-free phone or Bluetooth device. This will allow them to always keep both hands on the wheel.

Nobody should ever text while driving. Texting is an exponentially growing root cause of traffic-related incidents. Reading, texting and dialing a phone have proven to be some of the most hazardous activities a driver can perform. Drivers should also exercise extreme caution when adjusting their phone, radio or using a GPS device. Other distractions to be cognizant of include eating and drinking beverages (nonalcoholic, of course) while driving.

Ensure you know what qualifies as work-related travel, the differences between OSHA recordable and nonrecordable injuries and illnesses and how to reduce the risk of incidents in the travel setting. It will be useful when travel ramps up again.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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