Running a business is difficult enough. Keeping track of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s regulations makes your job as an employer even more complicated.
It’s not uncommon for small business owners to not fully understand the OSHA regulations that apply to their business – after all, there are a lot of them. However, noncompliance with OSHA regulations can not only put your employees in potential danger, but also lead to costly penalties that will set your business back financially.
Who is Covered Under OSHA?
The general rule of thumb is that if your business has employees, those employees are likely covered by federal OSHA regulations. There are a few exclusions to this, such as people who are self-employed, public sector employees, and family members who work on a farm.
Even with those omissions, the vast majority of businesses must meet OSHA safety and health requirements. However, businesses with 10 or fewer employees are defined as partially exempt by OSHA. This partial exemption means excludes these small business from some key responsibilities.
Another important note is certain states have their own OSHA-approved health and safety plans. OSHA still monitors these state plans, but the state laws take precedence over federal rules. As such, you’ll need to double check your state’s exact regulations to see if they differ from federal OSHA laws. OSHA includes a map with all the active state health and safety plans and contacts on its website.
OSHA Requirements for Small Business Owners
Whether your business is partially exempt or not, OSHA affects your company in several ways. Employers have multiple responsibilities to ensure that their business is compliant with OSHA standards.
Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards
The first major OSHA requirement for employers is to conform workplace conditions to applicable OSHA standards. These standards mandate that employers should identify and correct any safety and health hazards present in the workplace. If any hazards can be eliminated or reduced through feasible changes in working conditions, then those changes must be made to comply with OSHA standards.
These dangers can vary greatly depending on the nature of your business. For example, a construction site may require safety measures such as fall protection, guards on machines, and removal of hazardous waste. Meanwhile, adding ergonomic seating may limit health risks in office environments. For an exact list of regulations, please refer to OSHA Standards – 29 CFR.
Part of these changes often include ensuring that employees have the proper tools and equipment to complete their jobs safely. You must provide the correct personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, eye protection, and more. Any tools and equipment must be properly maintained. Furthermore, it’s a small business employer’s responsibility to provide safe tools and equipment – employees should not be required to provide their own PPE aside from everyday clothing and items.
Give employees the information necessary to protect themselves
Another key OSHA requirement for small business owners is to provide employees freedom in their right to information. As an employer, you are expected to provide your workers with a few different forms of information.
- On-site OSHA poster
- Hazardous chemical details
- Employee training
On-site OSHA poster
Every workplace has OSHA poster requirements for small businesses and large businesses alike. Regardless of company size, each business should have an OSHA or state-plan compliant poster on premises. Employers are required to display this poster in a prominent place so that employees can review their rights under OSHA law. An approved OSHA “It’s the Law” workplace poster is available for free online.
Hazardous chemical details
Any hazardous chemical containers must be properly labeled. These labels should not only identify the hazardous substance, but also include appropriate warnings. You should also keep Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for every substance that your employees may encounter. These SDSs must be readily available to workers so that they can review them and learn about the chemicals, their effects, exposure prevention, and emergency treatment.
OSHA requires employers to train employees about potential dangers and what they can do to stay safe on the job. Per OSHA rules, there are four different topics that should be addressed during employee training procedures.
- Hazardous substance training. This training should include how to read SDSs and what to do when handling any incidents.
- Blood-borne pathogen training. Any employees who may be exposed to blood-borne pathogens during regular duty should be trained about how to deal with blood-borne pathogens in case of an emergency.
- Emergency situation training. Employees should be trained on what to do in emergency situations, such as how to exit the building.
- OSHA inspector training. Employees should be trained on what to do if an OSHA inspector ever visits your workplace.
Employers must communicate training in a language and vocabulary workers can understand. The method of communication depends on how many employees you have. Businesses with 10 or fewer employees can orally communicate a training plan to meet OSHA standards. Businesses with more than 10 employees must share a written plan that is kept in the workplace and available for employees to review at all times.
Depending on the size of your business, OSHA may require you to keep records of serious work-related injuries and illnesses. Every accident should be recorded in the OSHA 300 log available online. Employers do not need to record minor injuries that only require first aid. Instead, employers should record the following injuries and illnesses listed by OSHA.
- Any work-related fatality
- Any work-related injury or illness that results in loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work, or transfer to another job
- Any work-related injury or illness requiring medical treatment beyond first aid
- Any work-related diagnosed case of cancer, chronic irreversible diseases, fractured or cracked bones or teeth, and punctured eardrums
- Special recording for work-related cases involving, needlesticks and sharps injuries, medical removal, hearing loss, and tuberculosis
It’s also important to note that recordkeeping is another area affected by partial exemption. Businesses with 10 or fewer employees do not need to maintain OSHA injury and illness records unless OSHA or the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics specifically instructs them to in writing. Employers in certain low-hazard industries are also exempt from this requirement.
OSHA is going to want to know about serious accidents or illnesses that occur at your workplace. These reporting requirements change depending on the severity of the issue. To start, employers are required to record any minor accidents and illnesses in the OSHA 300 log within seven days.
More serious incidents require added urgency and reporting measures. Workplace accidents that result in at least one death or send three or more employees to the hospital must be reported within eight hours. Meanwhile, employers must report work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, and eye loss within 24 hours. For these types of incidents, you can report to OSHA through the following means:
- OSHA's toll-free number – 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
- Your closest Area Office during normal business hours.
- The serious events reporting online form.
Once an incident occurs, you must post OSHA citations either at or near the work area involved. These citations should stay posted for at least three working days or until the violation is corrected (whichever is longer).
OSHA will crack down hard on any employers who discriminate against employees who file complaints alleging OSHA violations. The Whistleblower Protection Program disallows employers from taking adverse actions against employees who engage in protected activities. These actions include, but are not limited to:
- Firings or layoffs
- Denial of overtime or promotion
- Reduction of pay or hours
- Intimidation or harassment
- Denial of benefits
Potential OSHA Violations for Noncompliance
While there are several different criteria to maintain OSHA small business compliance, not all violations are viewed in the same light. There are four different types of OSHA violations, each of which have distinct penalties.
- Willful violations. Any violations that OSHA deems were intentionally and knowingly committed by an employer with plain indifference to the law. Penalties for willful violations can range from $5,000 up to $70,000 for each offense.
- Serious violations. These violations occur when an employer knew, or should have known, about a hazard that would likely lead to death or serious physical harm. Serious violations can lead to penalties of up to $7,000.
- Other-than-serious violations. These violations are also tied to the safety and health of employees, but the hazard in question probably wouldn’t lead to death or serious physical harm. Other-than-serious violations can result in penalties of up to $7,000.
- Repeated violations. A business that commits violations that are similar to past offenses are committing repeated violations. OSHA can penalize businesses up to $70,000 for every repeated violation.
Prevent OSHA Small Business Issues with Proactive Risk Management
Workplace hazards are a major problem for any small business. Workplace injuries and illnesses can not only impact the wellbeing of your employees, but also cause OSHA to visit your business. Fortunately, there are ways you can mitigate, or even avoid, OSHA inspections and penalties.
At GMS, we help business owners take control of workplace safety through proactive risk management. Our team works with you to provide onsite consulting, training, and jobsite inspections to identify potential problem areas and help your small business stay compliant with OSHA regulations. We’re also there to handle key investigations and deal with OSHA on your behalf in case an incident ever does occur.
Need a partner that can help your small business stay ahead of risks and avoid costly penalties? Contact GMS today about how we can save you time, money, and plenty of headaches by helping you take control of critical HR functions.