OSHA Does Small/Medium Businesses A Favor

cbca05334a8f6737a71dcf227394345bA few years ago I did some work helping a small manufacturing company comply with safety rules. They did not have a full time safety person and they heeded help complying with government and customer requirements.  They had had one serious incident in 10 years, a fire in the shop area, and the owner grabbed a fire extinguisher and put it out himself.  Based on what I saw, I believe they were a safe place to work, but they needed a little help with documentation.

We sometimes forget what an advantage big companies have over smaller companies.  They have resources for full-time safety professionals and to implement compliance programs.  An OSHA reportable injury is statistically factored into thousands or millions of man hours, giving them lower injury rate.

Small businesses may not even have a designated safety person and their safety programs tend to be pretty basic.  Unfortunately, just one lost time injury in a year can raise their rate so high that customers won’t use them.  Worse than that, they are often unprepared if an incident happens.   According to OH&S magazine, “Smaller companies have been found to be at greater risk than bigger companies, as in 2013 alone, small businesses paid nearly four times the amount in fines as large corporations with more than 250 employees.”

Now this next sentence may shock you.  OSHA IS HERE TO HELP!

Don’t stop reading yet.

Last month, the agency released its updated Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs.  It modernizes a document that was first published about 30 years go and it is particularly focused on providing tools for small to medium-sized companies.  I’ve reviewed the practices and I think it will be really helpful to companies that have just one safety person or need to reach outside for help.   

The guidelines are a very simple safety management system with 7 elements:

  1. Management Leadership
  2. Worker Participation
  3. Hazard Identification and Assessment
  4. Hazard Prevention and Control
  5. Education and Training
  6. Program Evaluation and Improvement
  7. Communication and Coordination for Host Employers, Contractors, and Staffing Agencies

The last element is a new one with this update.  It reflects OSHA’s increasing concern over the disconnect between a host company’s legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace and the incident statistics showing injuries to contractors and temporary workers.   It is a very clear message to industry that this is something they need to address if they don’t want a visit from OSHA.

The guidelines are written in everyday language and are easy to understand, even by people who are not safety professionals.  The guidance also has links to a lot of resources.   Overall it is a clear, easy to follow roadmap for companies to both comply with OSHA and, more importantly, develop a safe work culture no matter how big their company is.

Does it solve all of the compliance problems a business faces?  No.  It doesn’t solve the biggest problem that businesses face – time.  It takes time to develop and manage a working program. Small businesses usually don’t have enough hours in a day.   However, the information in the OSHA program creates a framework for small companies to hire in outside help for a very specific and understandable scope of work.

Looking back to my client with the machine shop, they had the most important element that a safety culture needs – an owner who knew every one of his employees and wanted to protect all of them from being hurt.  Their issue was that they were lean and needed a little outiside assistance.  OSHA’s new guidelines may not be a one-stop, do-it-yourself guide for every small business, but it is a very good recipe for what they need to do to have a strong safety culture, regardless of their size.

Need help aligning your safety program with OSHA compliance?   Let us review your program and develop the action steps you need to comply with OSHA’s guidelines.   Contact us at Info@lifelinestrategies.com or call 985-789-0577.

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