What Is OSHA?

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency that has been misunderstood since it was created in 1970. Many small business owners cringe when they hear an employee threatening to report them to OSHA. But if you stop thinking about OSHA as your enemy and start seeing them as your partner in business, your outlook on this subject will change.

OSHA’s mission has always been the same: to make sure that the safety and health concerns of all American workers are being met. The agency has developed specific workplace standards and polices businesses to make sure these standards are being met. It also provides training and educational programs for small business owners and corporations and works to establish partnerships geared toward improving workplace safety and health.

According to OSHA, the agency’s mission is to assure the safety and health of America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach, and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health. Through a network of some 2,100 inspectors, as well as complaint discrimination investigators, engineers, physicians, educators, standards writers, and other technical and support personnel, the agency is well equipped to fulfill its lofty mission. There are more than two hundred OSHA offices that monitor workplace safety and health issues located throughout the United States.

OSHA offers many resources designed specifically for smaller employers. The agency wants to encourage all businesses to establish safety and health programs and find and fix hazards to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. The Office of Small Business Assistance is a newly created OSHA office that not only administers OSHA’s nationwide On-Site Consultation Program, but also serves as liaison and point of contact within the agency for small businesses. OSHA offers many services designed to help small businesses and welcomes suggestions from small business owners and their employees as to how OSHA can better serve their needs.

OSHA offers a free consultation service for small business owners, including help in identifying workplace hazards and establishing or improving safety and health management systems across the company. Employers in high-hazard industries or involved in hazardous operations receive priority. Largely funded by OSHA, consultation programs are run by state agencies and offer an array of services.

Key services offered by the On-Site Consultation Program:

  • Help in recognizing hazards in the workplace
  • Suggested approaches or options for solving a safety or health problem
  • Sources of help available to a company needing further assistance
  • Written reports that summarize the findings of on-site reviews of safety and health
  • Assistance in developing or maintaining an effective safety and health management system
  • Training and education for small business owners and employees at the workplace or, in some cases, away from the work site
  • Recognition by OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP)

Many small business owners who have used the agency’s consultation services have been pleased with the results.

According to OSHA, an effective workplace safety and health management system at a small business work site(s) will enable the small business owner to:

  • Recognize and remove hazards from the work site
  • Protect an employer’s workers from injury and illness
  • Prevent loss of life at an employer’s work site
  • Cultivate informed and alert employees who take responsibility for their own and their coworkers’ safety and for workplace safety as a whole
  • Improve employee morale