Preservation of Records
OSHA regulations on preservation of records are very specific and require much longer retention than ordinary medical records, which is a very good reason for not mixing records for personal illnesses with occupational records. Few general medical offices are prepared to keep records for 60 years (30 years after the employee quits, retires, dies, or is fired).
Unless a specific occupational safety and health standard provides a different period of time, … the medical record for each employee shall be preserved and maintained for at least the duration of employment plus 30 years. This requirement does not apply to health insurance claims records maintained separately and to first aid records (not including medical histories) of one-time treatment and subsequent observation… if made on- site by a nonphysician and if maintained separately from the employer’s medical program and its records.
The medical records of employees who have worked for less than (1) year for the employer need not be retained beyond the term of employment if they are provided to the employee upon the termination of employment.
Nothing in this section is intended to mandate the form, manner, or process by which an employer preserves a record as long as the information contained in the record is preserved and retrievable, except that chest X- ray films shall be preserved in their original state.
The OSHA rules also provide for the maintenance of records on employees whose employer is no longer in business. If an employer goes out of business, its employee’s medical records shall be transferred to the successor employer, who must receive and maintain the records. This can pose problems if the successor employer chooses to sever the relationship with the private physician or clinic and take possession of the records. The records must be surrendered, but it is important, as much as possible, to comply with state laws governing the transfer or release of medical information. It may be advisable to notify the employees that their records will be transferred and that they should contact the new employer if they have questions or objections. Since the successor employer has the right to the records of all previous employees, not just those whom it rehires, there may be employees who would want the physician to retain a copy of the records and continue providing medical care. The physician or clinic may also want to retain copies of the records for medical-legal concerns.
When there is no successor employer, the employees must be notified of their rights of access to the records at least three months prior to the cessation of the employer’s business. The employer must also transfer “the records to the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) if so required by a specific occupational safety and health standard” or “notify the Director of NIOSH in writing of the impending disposal of records at least three (3) months prior to the disposal of the records.” The physician or clinic maintaining the records should ensure that these obligations have been carried out before disposing of any records.