There’s some good news and bad news about OSHA for businesses. After OSHA was implemented in 1971, small businesses owners complained that the regulations were too complex and burdensome. So the good news is that in 1996 Congress passed the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA), which was designed to help small businesses comply with OSHA and give them more of a voice in the development of new regulations. The bad news? Small business owners have not just one, but two, major pieces of legislation they need to understand and comply with. Here are four steps to help you comply:

1. Delegate a point person. Someone on your team should become the in-house expert or be responsible for bringing in the appropriate consultants, lawyers, and trainers. Your compliance point person may also access education and training resources provided by OSHA.

2. Determine your OSHA compliance requirements. The requirements vary in accordance with the hazards endemic to different industries and also with the unique nature of a workplace. OSHA grants exemptions to businesses in low-hazard industries, self-employed people, family farms, churches, and businesses that are already covered (more extensively) by other federal agencies. You should also check with your state’s business regulatory office to see if they have additional or different requirements.

3. Create a program for your company. Whether you work with a consultant or manage the compliance process in-house, create a program with these five elements, identified on the OSHA website:

• Management leadership and employee participation
• Workplace analysis
• Hazard implementation and control
• Safety and health training and education
• Program evaluation

As you can see, management must initiate a process that includes substantial input from employees. Together, you conduct an audit of safety issues. You make modifications to your site as needed and create rules for the training or credentials required to perform specific tasks that may be hazardous. And you evaluate the program on a regular basis, making corrections and improvements as indicated.

4. Maintain excellent records. Always maintain excellent records. That way, if you’re visited by OSHA inspectors, you will have the documentation to show that you have done your best to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.

​Inspections can occur in two ways. They may happen at any time, at random – except for businesses that are small enough or generally deemed hazard-free, so they earn an exemption. Or they can be triggered by an event, such as an accident at your workplace or to look into an employee complaint. Highly trained compliance officers may inspect your workplace and interview you and your employees. Taking OSHA compliance seriously and maintaining excellent documentation of your process are the only things you can do in advance to prepare and protect your enterprise from adverse inspection results.

Game Plan

OSHA is part of the Department of Labor, and they maintain an extensive website with information and resources for small business owners.

The following will give you an overview of OSHA requirements:

  • Visit OSHA’s section on small business.
  • For a useful general introduction, see the FAQ section.
  • Visit OSHA’s section on the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act.
  • After you’ve done your background work and are ready to get started, you can use this Compliance Assistance Quick Start tool to get a quick read on requirements for your industry.
  • You can also arrange for an on-site consultation with an OSHA advisor.
  • Do it yourselfers may prefer to read the OSHA small business handbook.
  • Finally, you can find out if your state has regulations that are distinct from the federal rules.

Of course, all of these links will provide information from the perspective of the regulators themselves. It may be useful to check your industry trade publications or websites for information on OSHA issues in your field.