The Nuances of Recordkeeping: What employers need to document, and how

Illustration of a person's hands & arms filling out a form, next to a first-aid kit | Shutterstock / Pixsooz
Published On
Dec 15, 2020

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires most employers to prepare and maintain records of work-related injuries and illnesses. The information is an important resource for employees, employers and OSHA in evaluating workplace safety. It will also lead to an all-around safer work environment by helping to identify specific industry hazards. However, the nuances of recordkeeping can be difficult to navigate.

To begin with, there are the specifics about who must keep records and what work-related illnesses and injuries they must record. Employers with fewer than 11 employees or that are in a low-risk industry are exempt. Minor injuries that merely require first aid do not need to be recorded. OSHA provides a list of exempt industries and clarifies what is considered first aid. Consult these lists when making the decision about recordkeeping and what injuries to record.

Additional complications, such as those presented by the current pandemic, may require further research. OSHA initially published guidance on when to record SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 illness reports as work-related in a special enforcement memo on April 13, 2020, and then updated the memo on May 26. In simple terms, it can be a recordable illness if a worker is infected as a result of performing their work-related duties and treatment goes beyond first aid. For the most current advice, be sure to consult OSHA’s latest guidance.

The next complication is the forms used for recordkeeping. There are three OSHA forms: 300, 300A and 301. One needs to know when to use them, the information needed on each, the location and timelines for storage and any requirements for posting or submission. The Injury Illness and Incident Report, OSHA Form 301, is the initial form to capture the details of the incident and the associated illness or injury. Employers may use an alternate form, but it must contain all of the information found on Form 301. Many state workers’ compensation forms meet this requirement. A comparison should be made to ensure all required content is there.

The second form is OSHA Form 300, the Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. Much of the information from Form 301 must be transferred to Form 300. It is used to classify injuries and illnesses and note the extent and severity of each case.

The third and final form is OSHA Form 300A, Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. Totals for the year in each category are reported on it, including type of case, type of injury or illness and days away or restricted days.

When an incident occurs, employers have seven calendar days to complete Form 301 or equivalent and add the incident to Form 300. All forms must be kept for five years, but only Form 300 must be updated if changes occur in the injury or illness (e.g., number of days away). The records may be kept—electronically or on paper—at a central location. However, a different log must be used for each establishment that is a location operating for one year or more.

Wherever records are kept, the employer must meet the timelines for delivering them to those parties covered under the regulations. For a government representative (i.e., OSHA), the timeline is four hours. The next business day is sufficient for employees, former employees, authorized employee representative and personal employee representative.

Consult the regulations to determine what private information can be withheld when providing forms to anyone. Form 300A does not record private information and is required to be posted from Feb. 1 to April 30 each year. It must be certified by a company executive, who must be the owner, an officer of the corporation, the highest ranking company official at that establishment or an immediate supervisor.

In 2016, OSHA promulgated rules requiring employers to submit Forms 301, 300 and 300A electronically, depending on size. Subsequent revisions to the rule eliminated much of this. Currently, only Form 300A must be submitted electronically on an annual basis. This applies to employers required to keep records, per the rule, with 250 or more employees and employers with 20–249 employees listed as a designated industry in the rule. The submission must occur by March 2 of each year.

In contrast to the electronic submission and limitations on maintaining records, injury and illness requirements apply to all employers, regardless of size or industry. Any work-related fatality must be reported to OSHA within 8 hours of management becoming aware of it. Employers have 24 hours to report an in-patient hospitalization of one or more employees, an amputation or loss of an eye resulting from a work-related incident.

Reports may be made in person to the nearest OSHA Area Office or by telephone to OSHA’s toll-free number, 800-321-OSHA (6742). OSHA also accepts electronic submissions at

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


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