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What OSHA regulations apply to small businesses? And what is a small business to OSHA?

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Occupational safety built into your growing business can set you up for success later

OSHA regulations genuinely help private-sector employers improve workplace safety. Even if your business operates a relatively “safe” operation like retail, state and federal OSHA regulations are a good guidepost for what to consider in the future. 

Among some small businesses, however, OSHA standards and regulations are applied with less legal force than to large businesses. This helps relieve OSHA inspectors and small business owners operating with one or two employees or contractors.

But any small business owner with the drive to grow their company should be aware of OSHA requirements as they expand. Taking steps to integrate and understand OSHA regulations today when you don’t have to is a useful way to grow with fewer headaches later when you do have to report and record instances of workplace safety hazards or illnesses.

An important note about OSHA regulations: OSHA rules and standards are subject to change and frequently do from year to year. OSHA maintains a Small Business Handbook worth reviewing for the latest legal requirements (PDF).

Small businesses with 10 or fewer employees do not need to maintain OSHA injury records

Unless the Bureau of Labor Statistics requires your business to record injury records, most small businesses don’t need to maintain records on workplace injuries and illnesses per OSHA standard 1904.1. Even post-COVID, which during the pandemic was itself a reportable illness, your business is exempt from this reporting rule.

OSHA standards for most private sector employers are based on the maximum number of employees you had in the last 12 months. So if you briefly staffed up to 11 employees in the summer, you’ve exceeded the “ten or fewer employees” rule and OSHA inspectors can conduct an inspection. 

In Indiana, there are two OSHA inspectors for the whole state, so akin to being audited by the IRS, the chances of being inspected are relatively low for most businesses. But the state and federal agency reserves the right and if an employee is hurt, reporting requirements are almost certain to follow. An in-person inspection is also likelier if you’ve had a reportable incident.

Some low-risk industries are exempt, even with 10 or more employees

OSHA maintains a list of small businesses “partially exempt” from some OSHA regulations and reporting requirements. This includes everything from bookstores to florists to shoe stores but also several kinds of office work and even some transportation-related businesses. Check the full list for your industry.

Indiana small businesses and public sector employees follow a different plan

Indiana is one of about two dozen states that operate under a state-run occupational safety and health administration plan approved through the federal government. Indiana law applies to most private sector workers and all state and local government public sector employees.

IOSHA follows the federal OSHA standards closely, too. You can review the full Indiana State OSHA plan, but Indiana’s plan exempts maritime employment and a few other employers under the auspices of federal agencies like the postal service and airlines. 

Indiana’s OSHA requirements apply most frequently to employers with more than 250 employees. Small businesses are partially exempt with 249 or fewer employees. More details can be found via the Indiana Department of Labor.

Consider following the self-inspection checklist

Depending on your workplace, you may consider following the safety measures that meet OSHA safety standards as good practice. Not only will it help systematize your business as it grows, it’ll also protect your employees. 

  • The most common workplace injuries surround ladders, forklifts, and failure to use proper personal protective equipment for eyes and faces. These and other fall protection measures have been high on the list of work-related injuries for more than a decade.
  • Respiratory protection skyrocketed to the top of the list during COVID-19, but remains a concern, too, for some workplaces depending on their environment.

The aforementioned OSHA Small Businesses Handbook has a list of self-inspection checklist items. But, generally, small business owners should self-audit to check for:

  • Potential hazards
  • Marking and abating known workplace hazards, like hazardous chemicals (including fertilizers, paint strippers, and other “every day” substances)
  • The effectiveness of PPE and employee compliance on the job

The checklist primarily suggests:

  1. Reviewing electrical safety, such as proper grounding and handling
  2. Fire protection and exit route safety
  3. Lockout/tag-out procedures
  4. Respiratory protection
  5. Surface safety, particularly in food service (something your local health department is already enforcing)
  6. Materials and handling storage
  7. Machinery and machine guarding
  8. Labels, signage, and hazard communication

Get your employees or yourself trained in OSHA 10 or 30-hour courses

Vantage Point offers OSHA 10 and 30-hour training to employers of all sizes. You can ensure workplace safety and improve the safety and health of your employees at any size and should work to reduce or eliminate the unnecessary risk of a workplace incident. 

We routinely tell people that, like avoiding an IRS audit, “It’s cheaper to do it right the first time than dealing with OSHA violations, inspectors, audits, and reporting requirements.” 

OSHA’s requirements aren’t overly onerous, but the average small business owner can easily overlook simple safety rules OSHA inspectors won’t. 

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