OSHA'S Office of Small Business Assistance
OSHA created the Office of Small Business Assistance to help small business employers understand their safety and health obligations, access compliance information, provide guidance on regulatory standards, and to educate them about cost-effective means for ensuring the safety and health of worksites.
OSHA's Office of Small Business Assistance can be contacted by telephone at (202) 693-2220 or by writing to the U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Room N-3700, Washington, DC 20210.
Using the free and confidential on-site consultation service largely funded by the Federal OSHA, employers can find out about potential hazards at their worksites, improve their occupational safety and health management systems, and even qualify for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections.
The service is delivered at your workplace by state governments using well-trained professional staff. Most consultations take place on-site, though limited services away from the worksite are available.
Primarily targeted for smaller businesses, this safety and health Consultation Program is completely separate from OSHA's enforcement efforts. It is also confidential. No inspections are triggered by using the Consultation Program and no citations are issued or penalties proposed.
Your name, your firm's name and any information you provide about your workplace, plus any unsafe or unhealthful working conditions that the consultant uncovers, will not routinely be reported to the OSHA enforcement staff.
Your only obligation will be to commit to correcting serious job safety and health hazards discovered -- a commitment that you are expected to make prior to the actual consultation visit. If hazards are discovered, the consultant will work with you to ensure they are corrected in a reasonable timeframe agreed upon by all parties.
Getting Started. Since consultation is a voluntary activity, you must request it. Your telephone call or letter sets the consulting machinery in motion. The consultant will discuss your specific needs and set up a visit date based on the priority assigned to your request, your work schedule and the time needed for the consultant to prepare adequately to serve you. OSHA encourages a complete review of your firm's safety and health situation; however, if you wish, you may limit the visit to one or more specific problems.
Opening Conference. When the consultant arrives at your worksite for the scheduled visit, he or she will first meet with you in an opening conference to briefly review the consultant's role and the obligations you incur as an employer.
Walk-through. Together, you and the consultant will examine conditions in your workplace. OSHA strongly encourages maximum employee participation in the walk-through. Better informed and alert employees can help you identify and correct potential injury and illness hazards in your workplace. Talking with employees during the walkthrough helps the consultant identify and judge the nature and extent of specific hazards.
The consultant will study your entire workplace, or only those specific operations you designate, and discuss applicable OSHA standards. The consultant also will point out other safety or health risks which might not be cited under OSHA standards, but which nevertheless may pose safety or health risks to your employees. He or she may suggest and even provide measures such as selfinspection and safety and health training that you and your employees can apply to prevent future hazardous situations.
A comprehensive consultation also includes: (1) appraisal of all mechanical and environmental hazards and physical work practices; (2) appraisal of the present job safety and health program or help in establishing one; (3) a conference with management on findings; (4) a written report of recommendations and agreements; and (5) training and assistance with implementing recommendations.
Closing Conference. The consultant will then review detailed findings with you in a closing conference. You will learn not only what you need to improve but what you are doing right, as well. At that time you can discuss problems, possible solutions and abatement periods to eliminate or control any serious hazards identified during the walkthrough. In rare instances, the consultant may find an "imminent danger" situation during the walkthrough.
In that case, you must take immediate action to protect employees. In certain other situations -- those that would be judged a "serious violation" under OSHA criteria -- you and the consultant must develop and agree to a reasonable plan and schedule to eliminate or control that hazard. The consultant will offer general approaches and options to you. He or she may also suggest other sources for technical help.
Abatement and Follow-through. Following the closing conference, the consultant will send you a detailed written report explaining the findings and confirming any abatement periods agreed upon. The consultant may also contact you from time to time to check your progress. You, of course, may always contact him or her for assistance.
Ultimately, OSHA does require hazard abatement so that each consultation visit achieves its objective -- effective employee protection. If you fail to eliminate or control identified serious hazards (or an imminent danger) according to the plan and within the limits agreed upon or an agreed-upon extension, the situation must be referred from consultation to an OSHA enforcement office for appropriate action. This type of referral is extremely rare.
Benefits. Knowledge of your workplace hazards and ways to eliminate them can only improve your own operations -- and the management of your firm. You will get professional advice and assistance on the correction of workplace hazards and benefit from on-site training and assistance provided. The consultant can help you establish or strengthen an employee safety and health program, making safety and health activities routine rather than crisisoriented responses.
In many states, employers may participate in OSHA's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). This program is designed to provide incentives and support to smaller, high-hazard employers to develop, implement and continuously improve effective safety and health programs at their worksite(s). SHARP provides recognition of employers who have demonstrated exemplary achievements in workplace safety and health, beginning with a comprehensive safety and health consultation visit, correction of all workplace safety and health hazards, adoption and implementation of effective safety and health management systems, and agreement to request further consultative visits if major changes in working conditions or processes occur that may introduce new hazards. Employers who meet these specific SHARP requirements may be removed from OSHA's programmed inspection list for one year.
The on-site consultants will:
- help you recognize hazards in your workplace,
- suggest general approaches or options for solving a safety or health problem,
- identify kinds of help available if you need further assistance,
- provide you with a written report summarizing findings,
- assist you in developing or maintaining an effective safety and health program,
- provide training and education for you and your employees,
- recommend you for a one-year exclusion from OSHA programmed inspections, once program criteria are met.
The on-site consultants will not:
- issue citations or propose penalties for violations of OSHA standards,
- report possible violations to OSHA enforcement staff,
- guarantee that your workplace will "pass" an OSHA inspection.
For a list of consultation projects in each state, see the OSHA website at www.osha.gov/dcsp/smallbusiness/consult_directory.html
Other Cooperative Programs
Information about OSHA's different cooperative programs is available from any OSHA Regional Office, OSHA Area Office, or by contacting OSHA's Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs at the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Room N-3700, Washington, DC 20210, phone (202) 693-2200.
Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP)
OSHA's VPP provide an opportunity for labor, management and government to work together cooperatively to further the goal of providing effective safety and health protection in the workplace. The VPP grant recognition to worksites that provide or are committed to providing effective protection for their employees through implementation of systematically managed safety and health programs. The Star Program is for worksites that have at least one year's experience with an effectively implemented safety and health program. The Merit Program is for worksites working toward an effectively implemented program. The Demonstration Program is for worksites with programs at Star quality but with some aspect of their program that requires further study by OSHA. All participants work in partnership with OSHA and provide models for OSHA and for their industries.
OSHA Strategic Partnership Program (OSPP)
OSPP is designed to enable groups of employers, employees and employee representatives to partner with OSHA and enter into an extended, voluntary, cooperative relationship in order to encourage, assist and recognize efforts to eliminate serious hazards and achieve a high level of worker safety and health.
OSHA Alliance Program
Alliances are goal-oriented written agreements between OSHA and organizations to work together to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses. Organizations include employers, employees, labor unions, trade or professional groups, educational institutions and government agencies. Alliances focus on one or more of the following goals: training and education, outreach and communications, and promoting the national dialogue on occupational safety and health.
OSHA Publications Office are available online in html or pdf format. Here are a sample of some of the publications that are available.
Access to Medical and Exposure Records -- OSHA 3110
Asbestos Standard for General Industry -- OSHA 3095
Construction Industry Digest -- OSHA 2202
Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) -- OSHA 3120
Emergency Exit Routes Quick Card -- OSHA 3183
Employee Workplace Rights -- OSHA
(Spanish version 3049)
Employer Rights and Responsibilities
Following an OSHA Inspection -- OSHA 3000
(Spanish version 3195)
Hazard Communication Guideliens for Compliance -- OSHA 3111 (pdf)
How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations -- OSHA 3088 (pdf)
It's the Law Poster -- OSHA 3165
(Spanish version 3167)
Job Hazard Analysis -- OSHA 3071 (pdf)
Occupational Safety and Health Act -- OSHA 2001
OSHA Inspections -- OSHA 2098 (pdf)
Personal Protective Equipment -- OSHA 3151 (pdf)
Small Business Handbook -- OSHA 2209
Other Sources of Assistance
Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association (VPPPA)
The VPPPA is a private organization made up of VPP participant companies. The VPPPA has members in most states where the Federal OSHA program operates and in many states where state plans are in force. The VPPPA is willing to provide information, outreach, and mentoring to help worksites improve their safety and health programs. Chapters of the national association have been formed in most OSHA regions. Members of these chapters also are willing to provide the kind of assistance provided by the national organization. To contact your regional chapter of the VPPPA, call or write the OSHA Regional Office listed in the back of this publication for the address and telephone number of the chapter in your region. To contact the VPPPA national organization, please call (703) 761-1146 or write to the following address:
Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association
7600 East Leesburg Pike, Suite 440
Falls Church, VA 22043
Small Business Development Centers
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) administers the Small Business Development Center Program to provide management and technical assistance to current and prospective small business owners. There is a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with more than 1,000 service centers across the country. SBDC assistance is tailored to the local community and the needs of individual clients and designed to deliver up-to-date counseling, training, and technical assistance. Services could include helping small businesses with financial, marketing, production, organization, engineering, and technical problems.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
NIOSH is a research agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (OSHA is a regulatory agency in the U.S. Department of Labor). NIOSH conducts research and makes recommendations to prevent work-related illness and injury. NIOSH has produced a useful guide, Safety and Health Resource Guide for Small Businesses, with telephone numbers, e-mail and Internet addresses, and mailing information to enable small businesses to contact government agencies, private organizations, consultants, and others who can help with occupational safety and health issues. The NIOSH toll-free phone number is (800) 356-4674, and its website address is www.cdc.gov/niosh.
Workers' Compensation Carriers and Other Insurance Companies
Many workers' compensation carriers, as well as many liability and fire insurance companies, conduct periodic inspections and visits to evaluate safety and health hazards. Managers of small and medium-sized businesses need to know what services are available from these sources. Contact your carrier and see what it has to offer.
Trade Associations and Employer Groups
Because of the increase in job safety and health awareness resulting from OSHA activities, many trade associations and employer groups have put a new emphasis on safety and health matters to better serve their members. If you are a member of such a group, find out how it is assisting its members. If you are not a member, find out if these groups are circulating their materials to nonmembers, as many do.
Trade Unions and Employee Groups
If your employees are organized, set up some communications, as you do in normal labor relations, to get coordinated action on hazards in your business. Safety and health is one area where advance planning will produce action on common goals. Many trade unions have safety and health expertise that they are willing to share.
The National Safety Council and Local Chapters
The National Safety Council (NSC) has a broad range of information services available. If you have a local chapter of the NSC in your area, you can call or visit to see how you can use materials pertaining to your business. If there is no chapter nearby, you can write to:
National Safety Council
1121 Spring Lake Drive
Itasca, IL 60143-3201
The following professional associations are an additional resource that may be able to provide assistance to you:
American Society of Safety Engineers
1800 East Oakton Street
Des Plaines, IL 60018-2187
American Industrial Hygiene Association
2700 Prosperity Avenue
Fairfax, VA 22031-4319
American Conference of Governmental
1330 Kemper Meadow Drive
Cincinnati, OH 45240
Specific Medical Consultation
Talk to your local doctors or clinics for advice on workplace medical matters on a consulting basis. Contact your local Red Cross chapter for assistance in first aid training. If you cannot identify a local chapter, call (800) 667-2968 or write to:
American National Red Cross
2025 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Your Local Library
Many local or university libraries contain information on specific safety and health subjects pertaining to your business. These materials are usually in reference rooms or technical subject areas. Ask your librarian what is available. The library may be able to obtain materials for you through inter-library loan, purchase, etc.
Two basic publications of the National Safety Council will give you many sources of technical information. The Accident Prevention Manual for Industrial Operations is a basic reference book for all safety and health work. The second book, Fundamentals of Industrial Hygiene, contains excellent information on toxic materials and recommended health and hygiene practices. Both of these references list other sources at the end of each chapter that may help you in solving specific problems.
Financing Workplace Improvement
The SBA is authorized to make loans to assist small businesses with meeting OSHA standards. Because SBA's definition of a "small" business varies from industry to industry, contact your local SBA field office to determine whether you qualify.
A helpful hint: if you decide to apply for an SBA loan, experience indicates that most delays in processing SBA/OSHA loans are because applications (1) do not adequately describe each workplace condition to be corrected and identify one or more OSHA standards applicable to the condition to be corrected, or (2) do not provide a reasonable estimate of the cost to correct each condition.
In most cases, safety hazards can be corrected without financial assistance. Health hazards may be more costly to correct. The age and condition of the building and equipment are major factors to be considered.
Interest rate information on SBA loans may be obtained from any SBA office. They fluctuate but are generally lower than you can obtain elsewhere. You may wish to consult your own bank. It pays to shop around for loans.
Don't forget to check with your accountant at income tax time, since safety and health improvements can often be expensed or depreciated.
Information courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration.