OSHA Stands Ready to Assist Small Businesses
With everything small business owners have to do, it's easy to get overwhelmed. And depending on your industry, just keeping up with the changing regulations and requirements regarding workplace safety can be a challenge - much less actually bringing your company in compliance. Larger companies can afford to have dedicated safety and compliance staff. Smaller companies too often flounder until they get in serious trouble - or worse, a worker gets injured or killed on the job.
Fortunately, help is out there. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recognizes many of the challenges that small businesses, especially, face, and has made resources available to assist.
If you are a small business owner or manager responsible for workplace safety, don't miss the opportunity to take advantage of these programs and outreach services.
If you let problems go uncorrected and you don't ask for help, and an OSHA inspector visits and discovers the problem, if a worker gets hurt on the job because of your negligence in complying with OSHA and state regulations, or if an employee or competitor simply observes and reports a violation, you could be in for tens of thousands of dollars in fines and penalties.
However, OSHA would rather help you identify the problem and correct it now, rather than enforce it later. That's where the on-site consultation program comes in.
In an on-site visit, OSHA will send a consultant to your workplace or worksites to conduct a walk-through and inspection. The consultant will first brief you on the scope of the visit, his or her responsibilities as the inspector and your responsibilities as the business owner or executive. They will then walk with you and conduct a detailed inspection of your business and help you identify potential safety issues. They will also help advise you on strategies to correct them.
In many cases, the OSHA inspector will have training materials and other tools you can use to create your own in-house safety compliance program.
Shortly after the end of the visit, the OSHA consultant will provide you a detailed written report with recommendations and requirements. If there is a safety issue, you will be given an abatement period to enable you to correct the problem. If you can correct issues within the timeframes provided, you will not generally be responsible for any fines. For the most part, the OSHA consultation problem is a free look. However, in some instances the inspector finds a hazard so severe that they do order an immediate shutdown until the hazard is corrected.
On-site consultants do not cite or report you to OSHA enforcement officials for hazards discovered during a site visit. You will not be fined for anything discovered during an on-site consultation. You will have the opportunity to correct these hazards before enforcement gets involved. Only where there is a failure to make agreed to or required improvements will OSHA enforcement officials get involved.
It's not enough just to correct visible safety hazards on the ground. A successful compliance effort also requires ongoing documentation. You should be keeping careful maintenance records, documenting lockout/tagout policies, ensuring vehicle and heavy equipment operators are licensed and qualified, and any number of other tedious paperwork tasks that all too easily fall through the cracks.
OSHA provides compliance assistance visits to monitor your ongoing efforts and help your administrative staff keep records up to date. It's up to you to request the visits, however.
OSHA also developed a "QuickStart" program designed to get new businesses or businesses with long-neglected safety compliance programs up and running fast. The QuickStart program is a step-by-step guide to managers about how to build the skeleton of a system for ongoing compliance. OSHA has developed specific QuickStart programs for the construction and health care industries as well as general industry.
If you have many Spanish-speaking employees, see also OSHA's Hispanic outreach program materials here. You may also want to make use of OSHA's Diverse Workforce/Limited English Proficiency Coordinators.
OSHA has made a broad array of resources, tools and training materials available online here. The backbone of the program is the Safety and Health Management Systems E-Tool. OSHA also publicizes statistics and data, and maintains an extensive library of electronic publications available free for download.
Curious to see how your safety track record actually impacts your firm's or your industry's profitability? OSHA maintains a $afety Pays website, that helps you crunch the numbers to see firsthand what workers compensation costs do to your business's bottom line. You can even generate a report of costs and the sales needed to cover those costs - a valuable tool to show employees when they understand that it also impacts the amount of money available for pay increases!