Question:

I recently moved to California to take a job as a human resources manager. My first concern is the safety of our employees. I understand California has an agency to enforce workplace safety similar to the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), which requires employers to report injuries. What injuries do I need to report in California?

Answer:

Generally, each workplace injury and illness that requires care beyond first aid must be reported within five days to California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). Cal/OSHA may issue citations when investigations reveal that an employer has committed violations of safety standards.

In every case involving a serious injury or illness, or death, the employer must call or fax Cal/OSHA immediately to report the injury, illness, or death. “Immediately” means as soon as practically possible but usually not longer than eight hours after the employer knows or should have known of the death or serious injury or illness. Under extraordinary circumstances, the report may be made within 24 hours of the incident. An employer’s failure to comply with this requirement could result in a civil penalty of at least $5,000. A work-related injury or illness is generally considered serious if inpatient hospitalization is required, or if the employee suffers disfigurement or loss of a body part.

An employer’s duty does not end at reporting injuries and illnesses. Employers are responsible for making sure their workplaces are safe. An employer may be liable for up to $25,000 for each citation of what Cal/OSHA calls a “serious violation,” and more for willful violations.

A new law has created a presumption that a “serious violation” exists if there is a “realistic possibility” that death or serious physical harm could result from the hazard. This standard, created when AB 2774 was signed into law in September 2010, is more stringent than the previous requirement of a “substantial probability” of death or serious physical harm. Similar to “serious injury or illness,” the meaning of “serious physical harm” is an injury or illness resulting in (1) inpatient hospitalization, (2) loss of a body part, (3) permanent disfigurement, or (4) impairment sufficient to cause a body part or an organ function to become permanently and significantly reduced in efficiency on or off the job. Depending on the severity, second-degree burns, crushing injuries, respiratory illnesses, or broken bones may all be considered serious physical harm.

Before issuing a citation, Cal/OSHA will consider any training the employer gives to employees and supervisors, procedures for discovering and correcting hazards, supervision of employees, procedures for communicating safety rules to employees, and any other information the employer provides to rebut the presumption that a serious violation exists. For example one factor Cal/OSHA might consider is whether the employer has educated its employees about its Injury and Illness Prevention Program.

Since 1991, every California employer has been required to have an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP), which is a written plan describing safety procedures. The IIPP should cover, at a minimum, management’s commitment to safety; assignment of safety responsibilities; a system of communication with employees; a system for assuring employee compliance with safe work practices; a regular schedule for inspections and evaluations; procedures for investigating accidents and for correcting unsafe and unhealthy conditions; safety and health training; and recordkeeping. Cal/OSHA offers model programs to assist employers in designing their IIPPs.

To protect employees’ health and avoid liability, employers should make sure their workplaces are free of hazards, and regularly audit safety practices. Each industry has specific safety standards. For additional information on workplace safety and Illness and Injury Prevention Programs, visit Cal/OSHA’s website at
www.dir.ca.gov/dosh.
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