Get Ready for New Workplace Injury Reporting Regulations

By Features PCmag

Brooke Zimet knows firsthand what it's like to mess up filling out workplace safety forms. Today, Zimet is a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)-certified senior professional human resources (HR) consultant and proprietor of TalentShip LLC in Portland, Ore. But in her first job as an HR assistant, her employer was fined because Zimet hadn't been taught how to properly complete Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) records when workers got sick or hurt on the job. A surprise audit by OSHA inspectors uncovered her mistakes. "If it's never happened before, there's so much you don't realize you need to know," said Zimet.

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Starting in 2017, it will be even more important for companies to get workplace safety documentation right. That's when a new OSHA regulation kicks in, requiring approximately 750,000 employers to electronically submit annual worker illness and injury reports to the agency, which will publish the data on its website.

It shouldn't be too tough for employers to comply. But, as I've learned from tech vendors and industry insiders, companies can't solely rely on HR software to do the job. And making mistakes—or even being too thorough—could come back to bite you.

HR Tech Vendors Mulling Software Updates
The new OSHA regulation, finalized earlier in May, affects US companies with more than 250 employees, as well as companies with 20 or more workers in several dozen high-risk industries, including construction, grocery stores, manufacturing, and nursing homes.

Under the new requirement, OSHA will post worker safety data to its website, with the expectation that "public disclosure of work injury data will encourage employers to increase their efforts to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses," according to an agency statement. The new rule directs employers to inform workers about how they can report injuries and prevents them from retaliating against employees for doing so.

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After OSHA released the updated regulations, I checked in with more than half a dozen tech vendors, including suppliers of on-premises and cloud-based HR management and time and attendance software. I wanted to know whether or not they're planning updates to help customers comply.

I received a variety of answers. ADP is working on adding the capability, according to a spokesman for the payroll processing giant. An SAP SuccessFactors Perform and Reward spokesperson says the company's "Employee Central Time & Attendance" module can be configured to track and compile absences by type, including work-related illness and injury. However, users will have to download the data into an OSHA-acceptable electronic format in order to transmit it to the agency.

Other HR tech vendors are still figuring out what they're going to do. Jonathan Rejholec, Senior Product Manager at BambooHR, wants to see if customers think it's an important feature before taking any kind of action. Ultimate Software is also taking a wait-and-see approach before deciding whether or not to upgrade its UltiPro HR management service. Kronos is looking into it for their Kronos SaaShr product. PlanSource, which primarily offers benefits administration software, is talking to the tech vendors with which it partners on other HR functions in order to determine how best to address the situation. Nir Leibovich, CEO at GoCo, a start-up with a freemium-based HR platform rivaling Zenefits, is trying to estimate how many of his customers the regulation would impact. GoCo clients typically have five to 300 employees, and Leibovich says he hasn't been able to find data on how many businesses of that size fall into OSHA's high-risk industry designation.

Business and tech author and speaker Phil Simon says HR software makers will add the function if they want to be seen as legitimate competitors to the likes of ADP, Oracle, Workday, and other big industry names. On the other hand, "I'm sure there will be plenty of companies that keep this in a spreadsheet or that don't know their HR tech could do this," said Simon, who previously worked for HR tech vendor Lawson Software (now part of Infor).

Clean Up Data, Get Training, and Other Ways to Prepare
Employers aren't totally sunk if the HR tech vendor from which they buy doesn't update its software to accommodate the new electronic reporting rule. Similar to SAP SuccessFactors Perform and Reward, a lot of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and HR software and management systems already generate absence reports. From there, companies will have to take the extra step of extracting the relevant data out of the system and into a form that OSHA accepts.

Before companies can submit data, they have to make sure it's clean. Getting to that point could be harder than it sounds. At some organizations, when a worker is injured, a supervisor or manager on the factory floor fills out an incident report or waits for HR to tell them what to do. As a result, sometimes forms are not correctly filled out or are incomplete. "Ninety-five percent of the time in my experience, the system doesn't work properly because someone didn't pay attention to data quality," said Simon.

To make sure that doesn't happen in the future, companies can put personnel who routinely fill out workplace safety forms through relevant training. State worker safety agencies such as Oregon OSHA offer online classes. So does OSHA, through OSHA Training Institute Education Centers, a national network of nonprofits that offer agency-authorized classes.

Zimet says that organizations also need to be careful about the amount of information they share. Before the change, employers erred on the side of caution and over-reported. "But if you do that now," she warned, "you could be penalized. You don't want to have a lot of incidents and accidents because it will trigger an inspection."

If small businesses have larger competitors that have to comply with the new regulations, Zimet says it could set off more OSHA investigations in their industry. "So the small guys need to stay compliant, too," she said.

Zimet worked on staff (or on contract) for several companies in healthcare and early childhood education, two industries OSHA considers high-risk for workplace illness and injury and, therefore, inspects more often. She reckons she's been through at least eight inspections over the years. If the new online reporting rule triggers an OSHA audit, she suggests companies create a checklist to which recordkeepers can refer. The checklist should include directions to where data is stored and questions OSHA commonly asks in audits. "This could be as simple as having a safety section on a company intranet or creating a wiki," she said. "So many companies have these things outdated in binders.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.