OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, is a federal agency whose mission is to ensure the safety and health concerns of all American workers. Using a network of over 2,100 inspectors, OSHA enforces the standards that improve workplace safety and health. Many small business owners do not fully understand OSHA and how it operates, which sometimes creates misunderstandings about the OSHA regulations that apply to them.
OSHA has been helping employers and employees save lives, prevent injuries, and protect the health of America’s workforce for more than 30 years. Since 1970, occupational fatalities have been cut in half, and on-the-job injuries and illnesses have been reduced by 40 percent.
According to OSHA, an effective workplace safety and health management system at a small business work site will enable the employer to:
- Recognize and remove hazards from the work site
- Protect an employer’s workers from injury or 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
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 corporatewide. Employers in high-hazard industries or involved in hazardous operations receive priority.
In 1996, Congress passed the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) in response to concerns expressed by the small business community that federal regulations were too numerous, too complex, and too expensive to implement. SBREFA was designed to give small businesses assistance in understanding and complying with regulations and more of a voice in the development of new regulations. Under SBREFA, OSHA and other federal agencies must:
- Produce Small Entity Compliance Guides for some rules
- Be responsive to small business inquiries about compliance with the agency’s regulations
- Submit final rules to Congress for review
- Have a penalty reduction policy for small businesses
- Involve small businesses in the development of some proposed rules through Small Business Advocacy Review Panels.
In addition, SBREFA established 10 Small Business Regulatory Fairness Boards to receive comments from small businesses across the country about federal compliance and enforcement issues and activities, and report these findings annually to Congress. The legislation also gives small businesses expanded authority to recover attorney’s fees and costs when a federal agency has been found to have acted excessively in enforcing federal regulations.
OSHA also publishes a Handbook for Small Businesses [PDF], which outlines in detail how small businesses are affected by its rules and regulations.