OSHA: New interpretation letter about employee intoxication [US]

OSHA releases new interpretation letter that does not exempt work-related from the recording standard when an employee is intoxicated

In a letter dated March 21, 2016 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruled that the use of alcohol by an employee did not constitute self-medication for alcoholism, and thus any injuries sustained by an inebriated employee are not exempt from the requirement to record work-related injuries and illnesses.


In the interpretation letter, an employer asked for clarification on whether an injury that occurred on site fit an exemption from the recording of work-related injuries and illnesses requirement. An employee’s hand was caught between two objects. After receiving treatment, the employee was given a drug-test and the test showed the employee was intoxicated. It is assumed that the injury was caused by an event at work and meets at least one of the general recording criteria in 29 CFR 1904.7.

The employer asked OSHA whether the employee’s alcohol consumption could fit the “self-medication for a non-work-related condition” exemption. OSHA rejected that argument, and noted that drinking alcohol is a manifestation of alcoholism, not a treatment. OSHA noted that the effectiveness of disciplinary policies and supervision are important occupational factors, and thus employers may find value in recording the incidents to address occupational safety and health.


OSHA, Letter of interpretation, “Determining if the injury or illness would apply to the work-related exception,” March 21, 2016

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