In a newly released letter of interpretation, OSHA has concluded that "therapeutic exercise" recommended by a health care professional in response to minor work-related "pain" constitutes medical treatment under OSHA’s recordkeeping rule.

OSHA was asked whether exercises recommended for a short period of time by an on-site health care professional when an employee is experiencing minor pain would qualify as medical treatment and be recordable, assuming the pain was work-related.  OSHA’s response was a definitive "yes."  "Therapeutic exercise" is not included on the list of first aid treatments.  Furthermore, the duration of the exercises makes no difference in an employer’s recordability determination:

The fact that physical therapy treatment, including exercise, is normally provided over an extended period of time and is administered by licensed personnel with advanced training was taken into account during the rulemaking process to determine the composition of the first aid list.  However, in implementation of the final requirements, the number of treatments rendered is not a factor in distinguishing between medical treatment and first aid.

OSHA also stated that this situation would not qualify for the exception from recordability for "minor musculoskeletal discomfort" (where the employer assigns a work restriction for the purpose of preventing a more serious condition from developing).  OSHA emphasized that this exception is "very narrow in scope" and that once any type of medical treatment is offered — including therapeutic exercise — the case is recordable.  "Work-related minor musculoskeletal discomfort treated with therapeutic exercise constitutes a recordable case."

Employers should take note of this new letter and ensure that their recordkeeping practices are aligned with OSHA’s interpretation.