Monday, March 23, 2015

Should OSHA Regulate Professional Sports?

The long-term impact of football-related head trauma has been a major issue in recent years, especially with the recent retirement of 24-year-old San Francisco 49ers rookie Chris Borland due to concerns of the long-term effects of head injuries and the high-profile suicides like that of NFL Hall-of-Famer Junior Seau. In Seau's case, he was found to suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of brain damage found in other deceased NFL players.

In the latest installment of "The Practical Employer" column, Jon Hyman mentions that OSHA lacks a standard on pro sports, although it does have the oft-cited general duty clause that requires employers to "provide employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Hyman notes that OSHA used used this clause to cite Sea World of Florida following a trainer’s death from a killer whale attack and questions if the general duty clause can reach the entertainment industry, then suggests it could reach professional sports.

In 2008, OSHA stated that it has the jurisdiction to regulate professional sports if the athletes are employees. NFL players are protected by a labor union and parties to a collective bargaining agreement with the NFL are employees and, therefore, subject to OSHA’s regulatory jurisdiction.

The NFL has implemented league-wide rules in an attempt to minimize head injuries, and it has been effective. In 2014, the concussion rate fell 25% compared to 2013 and the rate is down 36% since 2012. However, it is estimated that NFL players still suffer 0.43 concussions per game. While the rate of concussions has fallen, the rate of injuries overall continues to rise, up 17% from 2013 to 2014, with 265 players placed on injured reserve during the 2014 regular season. 

Read Hyman's entire column on Workforce's site.