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Q & A: OSHA opinion on horseplay injuries; sports activities

Q. “When ‘horseplay’ between workers turns violent is the resulting injury an OSHA recordable?”

A. In February 2009, OSHA issued a letter of interpretation regarding an incident between two workers in a construction trailer.

The workers, both supervisors, entered the trailer to change clothes at the end of their shift and engaged in banter that escalated into a physical fight. One of the workers allegedly pulled a knife and stabbed the other in the right bicep, causing a laceration that required sutures.

The contractor sought clarification on whether the injury was considered work-related, and thus recordable, under OSHA regulations. In his response, Keith Goddard, director of OSHA's Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis, noted, "We assume that the supervisors were in the change trailer as a part of their work or as a condition of their employment. If our assumption is correct, the injury resulted from an event (the altercation between the two supervisors) occurring in the work environment and was thus work-related.”

Q. “An employee has asked the company to sponsor a softball team. If an employee is injured while playing could this become a Workers’ Comp claim?”

A. Company-sponsored sports and recreational activities do carry potential liability. Employers may reduce their exposure to potential liability by:
  • Have activities take place off the business premises and outside of normal business hours.
  • Stressing that participation is strictly voluntary.
  • Do not benefit the business beyond the benefits of improved morale.
  • Leaving administration of events to employees, to the extent possible.
  • Having employees sign waivers relieving the company of liability for injuries sustained during participation. (Legal counsel should review and approve any use of such forms.)
Employers who decide to implement or sponsor such activities should work closely with their legal counsel to assess potential liability and to minimize their risk.