Why worry about safety? Because failing to do so could literally destroy your business.
Besides the human loss, workplace accidents cost money and time. You could be liable for substantial penalties that could wipe out your business' cash flow.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) can assess huge fines for willful violations of safety rules, especially when they could result in death or serious physical harm.
All employers, whether they have one employee or 1,000, are subject to federal OSHA requirements. State standards must be at least as strict as the federal standards.
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 of possible hazards from new technology or rare situations 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. OSHA and state safety organizations conduct safety consultation programs.
Check to see what programs your state safety program offers, too. You'll find local offices of government agencies as well as state 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.