Employers do not have to report a worker as having an injury if they instruct the worker to do regular stretching exercises for a “minor discomfort,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has concluded in an interpretation letter released on May 24, 2017.
In the letter, OSHA responded to a question on whether “an employee’s continued participation in a daily stretching program constitutes medical treatment for recordkeeping purposes.”
In the situation, the employer required all of its employees to engage in stretching exercises at the beginning of each shift and hourly during the shift. An employee reported to his supervisor that he was feeling “minor discomfort in his left shoulder associated with his work tasks.” The supervisor advised the employee to “continue participating in the stretching exercises that all employees participate in each day and to report back if he continues to be symptomatic.” In the scenario, the employee “never reports back to the supervisor about any continuing symptoms.”
OSHA stated there was “no change in the course of stretching exercises to specifically address the discomfort in the employee’s shoulder.”
The agency concluded, “Therefore, the supervisor’s advice to continue with the already existing program of stretching does not constitute medical treatment beyond first aid for recordkeeping purposes. Provided the employee did not receive any other treatment, restricted work activity or job transfer, the case does not meet the recording criteria under 1904.7.”
OSHA discussed the issue of therapeutic exercise in the preamble to the final rule revising OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping regulation. See, 66 Fed. Reg. 5992, January 19, 2001. OSHA said that it considers therapeutic exercise as a form of physical therapy and intentionally did not include it on the list of first aid treatments in Section 1904.7(b)(5)(ii). Section 1904.7(b)(5)(ii)(M) states that physical therapy or chiropractic treatments are considered medical treatment for OSHA recordkeeping purposes and are not considered first aid. Section 1904.7(b)(5)(iii) states that the list of treatments included in Section 1904.7(b)(5)(ii) is comprehensive of first aid treatments. Any treatment not included on this list is not considered first aid for OSHA recordkeeping purposes.
Section 1904.7(b)(5)(i) defines medical treatment to mean “the management and care of a patient to combat disease or disorder.” In this context, stretching exercises constitute medical treatment when they are recommended as “a new course of action” to address an employee’s work-related condition or disorder. In the scenario, there was “no change.”