Why worry about safety? Because failing to do so could literally destroy your business. Besides your ethical responsibility toward your employees, workplace accidents cost money and time. You could be liable for substantial penalties that could wipe out your business's cash flow. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) penalty for willful violations of safety rules that could result in death or serious physical harm is $5,000 to $70,000. So paying attention to safety is definitely worth your while.
All employers, whether they have one employee or 1,000, are subject to federal OSHA requirements. However, in states where a federally certified plan has been adopted, the state plan governs. State standards must be at least as strict as the federal standards.
Business that use nonemployee workers, such as independent contractors or volunteers, are not subject to OSHA. Workers are considered employees under OSHA if you:
- Control the actions of the employee
- Have the power to control the employee's actions
- Are able to fire the employee or modify employment conditions
Small employers (with 10 or fewer employees) don't have to report injuries and illnesses. However, that doesn't mean they are exempt from OSHA regulations.
Compliance With OSHA
The first step in complying with OSHA is to learn the published safety standards. The standards you must adhere to depend on the industry you're in.
Every business has to comply with general industry standards, which cover things like safety exits, ventilation, hazardous materials, personal protective equipment like goggles and gloves, sanitation, first aid and fire safety.
Under OSHA, you also have a general duty to maintain a safe workplace, which covers all situations for which there are published standards. In other words, just because you complied with the standards that specifically apply to your industry doesn't mean you're off the hook. You also need to keep abreast the government may have thought of and published standards for.
Sound exhausting? Help is available. Start with your insurance carrier. Ask if an insurance company safety specialist can visit your business and make recommendations. Insurers are typically more than happy to do this since the safer your business is, the fewer accident claims you'll file. The government can also help you set up a safety program. Both OSHA and state safety organizations listed in the government pages of your phone book, usually under "Labor Department," "Department of Commerce" or a similar name.
Don't forget to tap into the resources of your chamber of commerce, industry trade association and other business groups. Many offer safety seminars and provide safety training literature free or for a nominal charge. In addition, there are private consultants who can help small businesses set up safety programs that meet OSHA regulatory standards. Your lawyer may be able to recommend a good one in your area.
Put It in Writing
When you have a safety program in place, put it in writing with a safety manual. Your safety manual should explain what to do in the event of a fire, explosion, natural disaster or any other catastrophe your business may face. Make sure you keep well-stocked fire extinguishers and first-aid kits at convenient locations through out your building. Also make sure employees know where these are located and how to use them. In addition to emergency procedures, your safety manual should explain proper procedures for performing any routine tasks that could be hazardous. Ask employees for input here; they are closest to the jobs and may know about dangerous situations that aren't obvious to you.
Finally, have an insurance professional, a government representative and an attorney review the finished manual. You're putting your company's commitment to safety on the line, so make sure you get it right.
Emphasize the importance of safety with meetings, inspections and incentive programs. These don't have to cost a lot (or anything). Try establishing a "Safe Employee of the Month" award or giving a certificate for a free dinner for winning suggestions on improving safety.
This article was excerpted from Start Your Own Business.