OSHA Handbook for Small Businesses



American workers want safe and healthful places to work. They want to go home whole and healthy each day. Determined to make that dream possible, OSHA, for the last 25 years, has been committed to "assuring so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions." OSHA believes that providing workers with a safe workplace is central to their ability to enjoy health, security, and the opportunity to achieve the American dream.

OSHA's had success in this endeavor. For example, brown lung—the dreaded debilitating disease that destroyed the lives of textile workers—has been virtually wiped out. Grain elevator explosions are now rare. Fewer workers die in trenches, fewer get asbestosis, and fewer contract AIDS or hepatitis B on the job.

Also, OSHA inspections can have real, positive results. According to a recent study, in the three years following an OSHA inspection that results in penalties, injuries and illnesses drop on average by 22 percent.1

Despite OSHA's efforts, however, every year more than 6,000 Americans die from workplace injuries,2 and 6 million people suffer non-fatal injuries at work.3 Injuries alone cost the economy more than $110 billion a year. Also, in the public's view, OSHA has been driven too often by numbers and rules, not by smart enforcement and results. Business complains about overzealous enforcement and burdensome rules. Many people see OSHA as an agency so enmeshed in its own red tape that it has lost sight of its own mission. And too often, a "one-size-fits-all" regulatory approach has treated conscientious employers no differently from those who put workers needlessly at risk.

Confronted by these two realities and to keep pace with the workforce and problems of the future, OSHA began in 1993 to set goals to reinvent itself. OSHA is not changing direction but is changing its destination to improve its ability to protect working Americans.

In addition, OSHA in its reinvention efforts is determined to promote small business formation and growth as well as provide quality service to our small business customers.

For example, OSHA is implementing President Clinton's regulatory reform4 initiatives by (l) giving employers a choice—a partnership with OSHA and employees to provide better safety and health or traditional enforcement, (2) common sense in developing and enforcing regulations, and (3) measuring results, not red tape.

Building Partnerships

One of the most successful OSHA strategies began in Maine. In Maine, 200 employers with poor workers' compensation records received letters from their local OSHA office encouraging them to adopt safety and health programs and find and fix workplace hazards. That was the partnership option. The alternative was traditional enforcement with a guaranteed OSHA inspection.

An overwhelming 198 employers chose partnership. They implemented safety and health programs that worked. In partnership with employees, the companies over the past three years have found more than 184,000 hazards and fixed more than 134,000 of them. They have reaped the expected rewards—65 percent have seen their injury and illness rates decline while the 200 as a whole have experienced a 47-percent drop in workers' compensation cases. This unique program earned OSHA a prestigious Ford Foundation Innovations in American Government award. Today, OSHA is developing similar programs nationwide.

Common Sense Regulations

A second set of initiatives seeks to cut unnecessary rules and regulations and red tape. OSHA is dropping 1,000 pages of outdated, obtuse rules and regulations, has begun rewriting standards in plain language and is rewriting the old consensus standards adopted without hearings in 1971 and 1972.

One of OSHA's standards that most concerns employers, particularly the small businesses, is the hazard communication standard. Yet, this regulation is vital because workers must be aware of the dangers they face from toxic substances in the workplace. At OSHA's request, the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health has established a work group to identify ways to improve the standard. The agency's goal is to focus on the most serious hazards, simplify the Material Safety Data Sheets5 which are often complex, and reduce the amount of paperwork required by the hazard communication standard.

Common Sense Enforcement: Results, Not Red Tape

Equally as important as the content of the rules and regulations OSHA enforces is the way it enforces them—the way that the agency's 800 inspectors and other employees do their business.

OSHA also is speeding abatement of hazards through a program known as Quick Fix. Employers who fix a nonserious hazard while the compliance officer is at the site can receive a penalty reduction of up to 15 percent depending on the nature of the hazard.6 To date, this program has been effective in obtaining immediate abatement of hazards. The program will be applied nationwide to encourage employers to increase employee protection immediately, while freeing OSHA employees and employers from monitoring abatement and doing followup paperwork.

Response teams also are finding ways to speed up complaint investigations. For example, when someone calls in a complaint, an OSHA compliance staff member calls the employer, discusses the issue, and follows up with a faxed letter describing the complaint and requests a response to the allegations within five days. Using procedures as simple as phone calls and faxed copies of complaint forms have sharply reduced the time between receipt of a non-formal complaint and abatement of the hazard by at least 50 percent.

Focusing on construction inspections is another approach to reinvention. After evaluating its fatality data, OSHA realized that 90 percent of construction fatalities result from just four types of hazards. Now when compliance officers inspect a construction site with an effective safety and health program, they focus only on the four main killers: falls from heights, electrocution, crushing injuries (e.g., trench cave-ins), and being struck by material or equipment.

To the 67 OSHA area offices that conduct OSHA inspections, reinvention involves—Getting Results and Improving Performance, or GRIP. To do this, OSHA uses a four-step redesign process: (1) developing approaches targeted to the most hazardous worksites, (2) creating a team organizational structure, (3) improving office processes, and (4) measuring results. Twelve of OSHA's area offices have already been redesigned with hopes of adding additional offices each quarter.

OSHA also is establishing a new relationship with its state plan partners—the 25 states and territories that operate their own OSHA-approved safety and health programs. OSHA realizes that encouraging them to experiment with innovative ways to prevent injuries and illnesses ultimately will benefit all workers. For example, Kentucky's Mobile Training Van, developed cooperatively with the Associated General Contractors of Kentucky, provides safety and health training for small business employers and employees at construction sites. Michigan's Ergonomics Award Program encourages employers and employees to design solutions to some of the most persistent workplace injuries and disorders and to share their successes with other companies that may be having similar problems. Also, several states, through workers' compensation reform legislation and other measures, have mandated work-place safety and health programs and joint labor-management safety committees that have resulted in dramatic reductions in injuries and workers' compensation costs.

States that operate their own worker safety and health plans must provide worker protection that is "at least as effective as" the federal program. However, because their standards and other procedures may vary, businesses in these states should check with their state agency. See Appendix E for a list of state plans.

Another program that OSHA is enhancing is its Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), which recognizes companies doing an outstanding job in worker safety and health. Participation in this partnership program has doubled from 104 in 1992 to 245 in 1995. Workers at VPP sites enjoy improved workplace safety and health, but other sites also benefit as VPP participants offer their expertise and assistance through the VPP Participants' Association Mentoring Program and the OSHA Volunteers Program. OSHA's free on-site consultation program, which helps smaller employers improve workplace safety and health is another successful innovation. Expert consultants review operations, identify and help employers abate hazards, and assist them in developing or strengthening workplace safety and health programs.

Training is an essential component in the reinvention process. OSHA's Training Institute, located in the Chicago area, provides training for compliance safety and health officers as well as the public and safety and health staff from other federal agencies. The Institute offers 80 courses and has trained more than 140,000 students since it opened in 1972. OSHA also has 12 programs for other institutions to conduct OSHA courses for the private sector and other federal agencies. The new education centers make safety and health training and education more accessible to those who need it. For more information about OSHA's Training Institute or to obtain a training catalog, write the OSHA Training Institute, 1555 Times Drive, Des Plaines, IL 60018, or call (847) 297-4913.

In addition, the Agency has implemented a number of information dissemination projects and plans to undertake new initiatives to improve the availability of safety and health data to the public through a variety of electronic means. The agency provides extensive offerings on its CD-ROM, introduced in 1992 and sold by the Government Printing Office, as well as on a recently expanded and upgraded World Wide Web page on the Internet (http://www.osha.gov/).

OSHA also has developed two user-friendly computer programs, available free on the Internet and through trade groups to help employers comply with the agency's cadmium and asbestos standards. Another set of interactive programs on the Internet permits employers to determine their employment category (Standard Industrial Classification Code) and then learn the most frequently cited OSHA standards for that category in 1995.

These efforts—coupled with OSHA's consultation, voluntary protection programs, safety and health program management guidelines,7 training and education programs, and state plans—will better serve all American workers and employers, including small businesses, in providing safer and more healthful working conditions. For information on various OSHA programs, see Appendix E at the end of this publication.

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1 Wayne B. Gray and John T. Scholze, "Does Regulatory Enforcement Work?" Law & Society Rev 27 (1): 177-213, 1993.

2 Guy Toscano and Janice Windau, "The Changing Character of Fatal Work Injuries," Monthly Labor Review 117 (10):17, October 1994.

3 Bureau of Labor Statistics, Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, 1993.

4 Regulatory reform—to make the Federal Government more effective and responsive in the area of regulation—was first proposed by Vice President Gore in his National Performance Review Report, presented to President Clinton in September 1993. OSHA proposed its reinvention initiatives in May 1995.

5 Chemical manufacturers and importers must develop a MSDS for each hazardous chemical they produce or import, and must provide the MSDS automatically at the time of the initial shipment of a hazardous chemical to a downstream distributor or user.

6 Does not apply to fatalities, high, medium-gravity, serious, willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate hazards. Applies only to individual violations and to permanent and substantial corrective actions.

7 To assist employers and employees in developing effective safety and health programs, OSHA published recommended Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines (Fed Reg 54 (18): 3908-3916, January 26, 1989). These voluntary guidelines apply to all places of employment covered by OSHA.