Every business owner who values their employees' safety needs to be familiar with OSHA’s requirements for small businesses. OSHA — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — is an agency run by the U.S. Department of Labor. Its job is to provide guidelines for workplace health and safety, to protect employees through the inspection of workplace environments, and to ensure employers comply with a series of safety and health standards.
Who is Covered Under OSHA?
The majority of private sector businesses and their employees must meet OSHA safety and health requirements. Small businesses with fewer than 10 employees are partially exempt, meaning they are not required to maintain OSHA injury and illness records unless informed otherwise in writing by OSHA or the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Public sector employees, such as those employed by state and local governments, are not entitled to OSHA protection. Also excluded are the self-employed, the immediate family of farms that do not have outside employees, and workers at facilities regulated by other federal agencies.
What Small Businesses Must Do to Meet OSHA Requirements
Typical workplace safety and health management actions include: identifying and eliminating worksite hazards; taking all measures possible to protect employees from illness or injury; and educating employees on workplace health and safety measures. Here are five key areas of focus for small businesses:
1. Emergency Plans
Businesses must implement an emergency action plan that details how employees can leave the workplace in the event of an emergency and what actions they should take in such a situation. A written emergency action plan must be stored and made easily accessible on the premises.
2. Fire Safety
A written fire safety plan describes actions employees must follow in the event of a fire. Emergency fire exits must be clearly identified and always kept free of obstructions. While fire extinguishers are not OSHA-mandated, if a business keeps fire extinguishers on site, employees must be trained on how to use them.
3. Hazardous Materials
OSHA requires employers to give employees clear information concerning the use of hazardous chemicals. Employees should receive appropriate training in the use and handling of these chemicals and all such materials must be clearly identified.
4. First Aid
Every workplace must be equipped with first aid supplies, particularly those that relate to potential hazards that might occur in that workplace. Also, businesses located in a remote area or are outside the proximity of a medical facility must maintain on-site emergency personnel. These distances are determined by OSHA representatives, based on an assessment of the type of business and existence of potential hazards.
5. Recordkeeping and Posting Requirements
Every OSHA-covered business must also meet specific recordkeeping and posting requirements. The OSHA Log of Work-Related Injuries (Forms 300 and 300A) is used to record every significant work-related injury or illness. Employees and former employees are granted access to these forms. An "OSHA Job Safety and Health: It's the Law" poster (or a state-plan equivalent) must also be prominently displayed in the workplace. This poster outlines employees' job safety rights.
Employers might consider taking advantage of OSHA’s free and confidential advice to small businesses through its On-site Consultation Program. This service is unrelated to enforcement and will not result in penalties or citations. Another cost-effective way for small businesses to comply with OSHA requirements is through adopting a safety program. This type of program can help employers recognize potential hazards before an accident takes place and give managers and workers the resources they need to prevent work-related injuries and illness.