The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) covers the majority of employers in the private sector in the United States, as well as their workers. In addition, OSHA also covers some workers in the public sector, as well as their respective employers. Most people have heard of OSHA, but unless you have worked in a field where it has been relevant, or you have previous experience running a business, you probably don’t know many of the specifics.
For entrepreneurs who are preparing to open their first small business, it can be daunting having to familiarize themselves with OSHA. Fortunately, it is much simpler than many people think it will be, especially once you understand the fundamentals. The following tips will help small business owners who are encountering OSHA for the first time.
Your Responsibilities as an Employer
Under OSHA law, all employers have a responsibility to ensure that all their workers are protected, as far as is reasonably possible, from any safety hazards they might encounter in their jobs. Below are some of the key responsibilities and obligations employers have towards their workers.
First and foremost, the workplace environment should be free of any safety or health hazards. There are of course certain vocations, such as construction work, where there is an element of unavoidable danger. However, even in such environments, things are usually pretty safe when the relevant precautions are taken. The OSH Act also sets out the specific standards for workplaces, both in general and with respect to specific industries.
As well as ensuring that the workplace environment is safe and suitable for your workers, it is also the responsibility of the employer to ensure that workers are aware of their own responsibilities and obligations under OSHA. Of course, if an employee does injure themselves because they failed to follow the procedures that you laid out for them, your business won’t be penalized. On the other hand, if an employee doesn’t follow safety procedures because they were never told about them, you will be liable for any injuries they sustained.
As well as making sure that your employees all understand their OSHA obligations as far as the workplace environment goes, it is also your responsibility to ensure their safety when they are using equipment. Not only their safety but the safety of all of those who are working near them. This means that it is up to you to ensure that tools are only used by those who are competent to use them.
Where there are unavoidable or acceptable hazards within the workplace environment, it is important that they are marked correctly. This means using prominent signage that adheres to the color coding scheme set out in the OSH Act.
On a similar note, any business where hazardous chemicals will be present needs to ensure that they have appropriate procedures in place for dealing with exposure to hazardous substances. Not only must all workers be trained on appropriate prevention and reaction procedures, they must also have access to all of the relevant data sheets.
Injury and Illness Prevention Program
OSHA encourages every employer to implement their own Injury and Illness Prevention programs according to guidelines laid out in the act. There is a multitude of different names that might be used to refer to these programs, depending upon the specific industry they are found in. The goal of these programs is to identify potential sources of illness or injury and to act to mitigate their potential to impact your employees.
A number of states have set their own voluntary guidelines to help businesses in devising their programs, and in many industries, these programs or something akin to them was available before the introduction of OSHA. The specific features of the program can vary according to the industry they are being used in, but there are some elements which are universal.
First of all, any comprehensive Injury and Illness Prevention program will need to emphasize the importance of effective management and leadership. If standards are allowed to slip, safety will suffer. It is also vital that these programs invite worker participation. Your employees should help to sculpt your initial policy, and then be involved in shaping it as time goes on.
Other key aspects of any Injury and Illness Prevention programs include the identification, prevention, and control of hazards. These objectives can only be supported by a strong educational base. It is essential that you are willing to invest money in training your staff individually if necessary. It is especially important that your management level staff all understand their OSHA obligations. They can then communicate them to the rest of your team.
If you think that individuals on your team, or your team as a whole, could benefit from OSHA training, you can search for OSHA courses through findcourses.
In order to ensure that your business goes beyond mere compliance with OSHA and puts the maintaining of a safe workplace environment at the heart of what it does, you will need to always remain mindful of your workers’ rights under OSHA. One of the key aspects of OSHA is that it offers legal protection for whistleblowers. This means that if a business is in breach of OSHA and an employee reports them for it, the employer is not allowed to discriminate against the employee because of it.
The rights afforded to workers under OSHA are mostly what you would expect and they are designed to both mirror and reinforce the spirit of the legislation. The most important rights guaranteed are the following.
- Workers have a right to be trained in a language that they are able to understand. In most instances, the employee will be required to sign something to say they have received and understood the relevant training.
- Any machines and equipment that workers use must be inspected and well-maintained to ensure that they are safe. No worker can ever be made to use equipment that is unsafe.
- The safety gear that is mandated in order to operate any equipment must be provided by the employer. No worker should ever be asked to undertake any work without access to the appropriate safety gear.
- Where there are toxic chemicals or hazardous substances on site, businesses must take reasonable steps to ensure that accidental exposure does not occur.
- If workers have concerns about the way that OSHA is being handled in their place of work, they have the right to request an OSHA inspection and to talk directly with the inspector responsible.
- Access any data relevant to workplace safety, including but not limited to, accident logs, records of any work-related injuries and illnesses, and copies of any tests conducted to identify hazards in the workplace environment.
Most of the rules and regulations laid out by OSHA make perfect sense and are the logical conclusions of sensible workplace policies. Unfortunately, prior to the introduction of OSHA, there were a number of industries where lax safety standards were common. That has changed, largely thanks to OSHA. Small business owners should remain mindful of OSHA, and the specific rules that it sets forth. But as long as you implement sensible safety policies and thorough staff training, you are unlikely to fall afoul of the law.