Avoiding problems with OSHA

It’s wise to be wary of Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) requirements that apply to small business. OSHA’s role is to get small businesses to establish and follow safety programs, and to find and fix hazards to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.
Violations can draw serious fines.
Your first priority should be to establish a written safety program and manual for your business. Recent surveys show that 52 percent of businesses with fewer than 10 employees lack a written safety plan.
Not having a plan can increase fines for safety violations, and it also tells employees and regulators alike that you don’t consider safety a priority.
But many business owners, and especially those just starting out, don’t know what is required of them, or where to look for help. There are dozens of companies that sell costly OSHA compliance materials.
But the best starting point is actually OSHA itself, through the Web site www.osha.gov/smallbusiness, where you will find an abundance of free tools and information.
OSHA Compliance Assistance Quick Start is designed specifically to help new business owners understand the general rules and find the right resources. It’s a step-by-step guide to the major requirements that may apply to your business.
There may be additional state occupational safety and health regulations you need to know, and you’ll find a complete list of state programs here as well. You should also know that OSHA has a long-established “non-retaliation” policy. It means that if your business seeks information about safety and health regulations, your inquiry cannot trigger an inspection.
Many startups take advantage of OSHA’s on-site consultation service, which offers free and confidential advice to small businesses nationwide. Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. Under this service, safety experts will visit your site to help spot and correct potential hazards. You can even qualify for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections.
The site also includes a section with helpful resources, a collection of “eTools” and “Quick Cards” on topics such as operating aerial lifts, electrical safety, safe driving and heat stress.
Keeping the required records is also important. For example, firms with 11 or more employees (except those in certain low-risk industries such as finance and real estate) must maintain records of all “recordable” work-related injuries and illnesses. The OSHA Recordkeeping Handbook on the Web site can help.
G. Neil also carries a wide range of helpful OSHA compliance and training materials, at www.gneil.com.

Daniel Kehrer can be reached at editor@business.com.

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