OSHA Handbook for Small Businesses

Developing a Profitable Strategy for Handling Occupational Safety and Health

Developing a Profitable Strategy for Handling Occupational Safety and Health

Many people confuse the idea of "accidents" with the notion of Acts of God. The difference is clear. Floods and tornadoes cannot be prevented by the owner or manager of a small business, but workplace accidents can be prevented, and indeed, floods and tornadoes can be anticipated and prepared for.

Nobody wants accidents to happen in his or her business. A serious fire or the death of an employee or an owner can cause the loss of a great amount of profit or, in some cases, even an entire business. To prevent such losses, you don't have to turn your place upside down. You may not have to spend a lot of money, either. You may only need to use good business sense and to apply recognized prevention principles.

There are reasons why accidents happen. Something goes wrong somewhere. It may take some thought, and maybe the help of friends or other trained people, to figure out what went wrong, but there will be a cause— a reason why. Once you know the cause, it is possible to prevent an accident. You need some basic facts, and perhaps some help from others who know some of the answers already. You also need a plan—a plan for preventing accidents.

Not all danger at your worksite depends on an accident to cause harm, of course. Worker exposure to toxic chemicals or harmful levels of noise or radiation may happen in conjunction with routine work as well as by accident. You may not realize the extent of the exposure on the part of you and/or your employees, or of the harm that may result. The effect may not appear immediately, but it may be fatal in the long run. You need a plan that includes prevention of these "health hazard exposures" as well as accidents. You need a safety and health protection plan.

It is not a difficult task to develop such a plan. Basically, you only need to concern yourself with those types of accidents and health hazard exposures which could happen in your workplace.

Because each workplace is different, your program may be different from one that your neighbor or your competitor might use. But this is not important. You want it to reflect your way of doing business, not theirs.

While the details may vary, there are four basic elements that are always found in workplaces with a good accident prevention program. These are as follows:

  1. The manager or management team leads the way, especially by setting policy, assigning and supporting responsibility, setting an example, and involving employees.
  2. The worksite is continually analyzed to identify all hazards and potential hazards.
  3. Methods for preventing or controlling existing or potential hazards are put in place and maintained.
  4. Managers, supervisors, and employees are trained to understand and deal with worksite hazards.

Regardless of the size of your business, you should use each of these elements to prevent workplace accidents and possible injuries and illnesses.

Developing a workplace program following these four points should lead you to do all the things needed to protect you and your workers' safety and health. If you already have a program, reviewing it in relation to these elements should help you improve what you have.

If you follow it, this four-point approach to safety and health protection in your business should also help you to improve efficiency. It may help you reduce insurance claims and other costs. While it does not guarantee compliance with OSHA standards, the approach will help you toward full compliance and beyond. It will certainly give you a way to express and document your good faith.

This approach usually does not involve large costs. Especially in smaller businesses, it generally does not require additional employees. Usually it can be integrated into your other business functions with modest effort on your part.

The key to the success of this plan is to see it as a part of your business operation and to see it reflected in all your work. As you continue doing it, the program becomes easier. It becomes built-in and then you need only check on it periodically to be sure everything's working well.

In Section 2, for example, we give short titles for each of the elements and then give short descriptions and illustrations for each. Since most employers, like you, are pressed for time, these descriptions are capsules of information to assist you in thinking through and getting started on your own approach.

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