The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established in 1970 to protect the well-being of business employees nationwide. This governing body ensures safe and healthy working conditions by setting and enforcing standards via training, outreach, education, and assistance.
While the agency monitors hazardous professions or industry giants (like Amazon), OSHA’s regulatory policies also impact small businesses. This has become even more relevant in a post-COVID world where ideas of worker health and safety have shifted dramatically. From the rise of remote work and manufacturing automation to the effects of burnout and vulnerable working environments, the safety landscape has been permanently altered. That means businesses of all sizes must remain compliant.
WHAT OSHA REGULATIONS APPLY TO SMALL BUSINESSES?
In addition to specifying rules for businesses to follow, OSHA also defines organizations that are exempt from their regulations. Generally speaking, businesses with 10 or fewer employees, and those from certain low-risk industries, may not be required to adhere to all OSHA standards.
You can find OSHA’s list of partially exempt industries here.
But since regulations exist to keep your employees safe, it’s best practice to comply – whether or not you’re required to do so.
While precise OSHA requirements vary by industry and company size, several regulations apply to virtually all employers.
HEALTH & SAFETY COMPLIANCE: WHAT YOU MUST KNOW
Here are six policies you must follow if you’re a small business owner.
Employees need to be aware of any hazardous chemicals they encounter. They also need to know how they can protect themselves against these or any other transmitted contagions or foreign-born substances.
Emergency Action Plan
Employers must inform their employees how to respond to a fire or other natural disasters. This would include directions for evacuation, as well as guidelines for seeking shelter in the event of a tornado, for example.
Employers must make employees aware of potentially flammable worksite materials. Employees must also be cognizant of on-site fire extinguishers (including sprinklers) and fire alarms.
A worksite must have unobstructed, continuous exit routes that employees can use in an emergency. If these exit routes change, employers should notify all personnel immediately.
Employers should be vigilant about preventing slip and fall incidents. Employees must be outfitted with appropriate personal fall protection equipment such as fixed ladders and guardrails. These devices should be inspected regularly.
Medical and First Aid
Employers must provide personnel with access to medical and first aid supplies. Employees should be instructed as to where they can find these supplies on-premises, should they need them.
This is just a general overview and not an exhaustive list. If a small business owner’s employees take part in hazardous work – such as construction or any industry dealing with heavy machinery – they may need to comply with additional requirements.
For a complete list of requirements, click here.
It’s important to remember that failing to comply with OSHA policies elicits long-term, and in some cases, irrefutable damages:
- Expensive fines
- Legal liabilities
- On-the-job injuries
- Settlement claims
- Attorney fees
- Tarnished reputation
THE VALUE OF A HEALTH & SAFETY COMPLIANCE PROGRAM
Each year, roughly 5,000 workers are killed on the job in the U.S., and more than 3.6 million suffer a serious job-related injury or illness. This chain of events can devastate a business – particularly a small operation.
Diligent health & safety compliance programs can help:
- Prevent workplace injuries and illnesses
- Reduce costs, including significant reductions in workers’ compensation premiums
- Engage workers and enrich their overall livelihoods
- Enhance social responsibility and sustainability footprints
- Increase productivity and streamline logistical operations
HOW HAS COVID CHANGED THE OUTLOOK OF WORKPLACE HEALTH & SAFETY?
It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic uprooted long-held assumptions and put various issues in the hot seat – like childcare, sick leave, and disability. It also underlined safety concerns, particularly in healthcare environments, where professionals treat embattled populations.
The changing work conditions brought on by the pandemic are already impacting workers significantly. The first and most apparent is worker stress and burnout. The millions of workers who have left their jobs (via The Great Resignation or The Great Reshuffle) highlight workers’ long-term exhaustion.
HOW TO IMPLEMENT HEALTH & SAFETY COMPLIANCE INITIATIVES
To ensure the success of any health and safety program, an organization must take a strategic approach to develop its initiatives.
Components of a successful plan include:
- Developing an overall vision/mission, goals, and objectives
- Determining which guidelines to implement
- Defining roles and responsibilities
- Charting an evolution strategy
- Preparing a communications plan
- Evaluating the program’s impact
As for how to implement a program, here are a few helpful tips:
Determine the Type of Plan You Want to Create
One way to do this is to pick monthly, quarterly, and yearly themes to focus on and then develop programs to address those topics.
Use Health and Safety Holidays to Set Your Themes
Several health and safety-related holidays throughout the year celebrate an array of topics and causes. These can help you be strategic about what safety issue you want to promote.
Set SMART Goals
Set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.
Promote it Internally
Your entire organization must be aware of your program to succeed. In addition to developing communication tools, like flyers and posters to promote the initiative, leverage department heads and other leadership to get the word out.
Taking the Next Step
Interpreting OSHA requirements can be confusing and time-consuming, particularly for small business owners. It’s important to understand all measures that apply to your business – not just to elevate safety, but to avoid the costly aforementioned ramifications.
At Health & Benefits Partners, we’re here to support the healthcare and human resource decisions that make the most sense for you and your employees. If you’d like to learn more about health and safety compliance for your small business, reach out to our qualified specialists today.