Few business owners have happy thoughts when they think of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). The first thought is usually of red tape and obsolete regulations instead of the possible benefits from taking advantage of the services offered by OSHA to reduce workplace illness, injury, and fatality. There are three very obvious ways in which any effort to mitigate losses from workplace illness, injury, and fatality can help a business:
- It helps to ensure minimal day-to-day work-flow disruption.
- It helps to boost employee morale.
- It helps to manage liability insurance costs, including that of Workers Compensation claims.
OSHA helps in these areas through an array of education, outreach, and compliance assistance programs. For example, OSHA offers a variety of training materials and guidelines that can help workers and employers to understand and comply with safety standards. These may be obtained online, on CD-ROM, and in print. There’s also a 24-hour toll free number that employers can call for assistance on workplace safety issues. For small business owners that need onsite help to identify and correct possible workplace hazards and/or establish health or safety programs, OSHA offers free workplace consultations among its many other services.
Through cooperative programs, like the Alliance Program, OSHA works directly with entities such as educational institutions, businesses, trade organizations, and labor organizations. Certain industries, such as food processing, shipbuilding, and construction, are specifically targeted through OSHA’s Strategic Partnership Program.
The Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) are considered the superstars of the OSHA cooperative programs. One of these programs is called the Star Program. It’s designed for businesses that have shown an exemplary workplace (injury and illness rates below the national average for their industry) through successful and comprehensive health management and safety programs. Businesses in this program will undergo a review and onsite investigation of their health and safety programs, a review of past inspections, an onsite condition assessment, and have their management team and employees interviewed. Incident rates are reviewed yearly and overall reevaluation takes place every three to five years to ensure that Star participants still meet the program requirements. The Merit Program is another voluntary protection program. It’s a stepping stone of sorts to the Star Program and is for those with good health and safety programs. These businesses have areas needing improvement, but demonstrate the potential for excellence.
Involuntary inspections are an even large part of OSHA’s preventative measures. Many are the direct result of a workplace injury or death report or complaint. In fact, of the 37,000 involuntary inspections OSHA conducted in 2002, around 9,000 stemmed from an accident report or complaint. These inspections resulted in almost 80,000 violations and $73 million dollars worth of penalties, $11.8 million of which was from the most serious violation category, the willful violation. The average OSHA fine was $28,000 and the most often inspected industries were manufacturing and construction.
Since its 1971 start, OSHA has proven itself a successful branch of the Department of Labor. Despite heavy employment growth overall, through OSHA inspection, education, outreach, and enforcement, workplace illnesses have decreased by more than 40% and deaths have decreased by more than 50%. Even though many small businesses, especially those not in frequently-targeted industries, aren’t highly concerned with OSHA compliance and regulatory monitoring, OSHA can still be a valuable asset when it comes to occupational safety and health and risk management.