In a year of numerous developments in the risk management field, there was probably none bigger than the announcement that OSHA would be implementing electronic incident reporting. A change that looks to have a lasting impact on organizational operations, the requirement of electronic incident reports allows OSHA to focus on more efficiently allocating their compliance assistance resources to address rising health and safety concerns. Even more important is that these reports will be public facing, providing employers and workers with valuable insights on injury and illness trends.

As employers begin to shift their reporting processes from manual to electronic, what does this mean as we head into 2018 and beyond? In my opinion, we must understand the breadth of these changes and how we can use them to improve our business practices.

Understanding the OSHA Changes

As previously mentioned, there are two key OSHA changes that all risk managers must address: the electronic submission criteria and the public distribution of risk data.

OSHA’s switch to electronic submissions improves record keeping and removes the human error that can arise when organizations rely on paper-based processes. By switching to an electronic system, organizations can now easily export all necessary OSHA data in an Excel .csv file and directly upload it into the system.

Once the data is uploaded and analyzed, it is published on the OSHA website. As risk managers, it is important to realize that, good or bad, your submission data will be made public. OSHA’s intent with this approach is not to publically shame companies, but instead they believe that public disclosure will help bring risk and workplace safety to the forefront of organizational priorities. Specifically, because all data will be public, it is expected that employers will increase their focus on workplace safety to stand apart from their competitors.

As the electronic submission process takes place over a two-year roll-out period, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with these practices by vising the OSHA website.

What This Means for Your Business

So, the question remains: how can organizations benefit from these OSHA changes? Two key areas where I see the most opportunity is the increased visibility into workplace data and greater control over public image.

The OSHA changes bring with them a multitude of data that organizations can use to make more informed business decisions. In addition to their own workplace data, organizations will also be able to review their competitor and industry data, create unprecedented access to risk management trends.

This visibility provides employers with the data required to improve their internal workplace issues, allowing them to reduce the amount of “negative” data that is exposed to the public over time. Additionally, by being able to review competitor and industry data, savvy risk-management teams will have the ability to proactively identify and address emerging industry risks before their organization is affected.

Lastly, the public distribution of data allows great control over public image. Because this data is available to media, job seekers and other public facing audiences, organizations have an opportunity to reinforce their organization’s dedication to safety. Such practices could have lasting effects on media coverage and acquiring talent.

Preparing Your Company

To ensure that you are maximizing the benefits of the OSHA update and mitigating the bad press that can arise from the public records, I recommend taking a few steps to prepare your company.

First, educate your employees on workplace safety. Because data will become public knowledge, employers must develop employee training programs (if they are not already established) and ensure continual employee training and development. These practices will help reduce workplace incidents and increase employee morale.

Secondly, as part of this training, employers should also educate their employees on the importance of incident reporting, as this is valuable data that can help reduce future incidents. As the data will be published, employers must create an environment where employees do not feel threatened that reporting an incident could lead to ramifications. Instead, employers should present reporting as a positive for the company, allowing employees to have a voice in improving workplace safety processes.

Lastly, your risk teams should review their reporting processes to ensure they are collecting the proper data for the OSHA submissions. This can include looking at how reports are gathered and submitted, the accuracy of the reports, locations where the reports live within the system and more. I encourage you to explore ways to improve these processes to increase organizational adoption, including looking at submission requirements and even technologies to help streamline the reporting process.

Remember, It’s All About Creating the Safer Workplace

At the end of the day, we want to create environments where employees feel safe, both from workplace injuries and from fear of reporting an incident. OSHA’s new standards are pushing us in the right direction, but we must also remember that it is our role as workers, managers and leaders to ensure that we are doing everything we can to identify and mitigate workplace risk.

Quin Rodriguez is Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Riskonnect.