occupational safety and health administration

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Small business owners must worry about many different aspects of running their entities, including small business safety. One subject that notoriously confuses small business owners, entrepreneurs, and seasoned professionals is the OSHA requirements. While there is a lot of information to sort through regarding these regulations, OSHA doesn’t have to be a forbidden topic in your office.

In this article, we aim to help small business owners understand what OSHA is and how it applies to their small businesses.

What is OSHA and why is it important to business owners?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federally supported agency that exists for the purpose of protecting American workers. Created in response to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, or the OSH Act of 1970, OSHA has been working with businesses of all sizes to provide safer and healthier work environments. The agency is responsible for setting and enforcing workplace standards, providing safety training programs, and creating a continuous “safe place” for communicating unsafe working conditions. 

As a part of the U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA is made up of 85 area offices and more than 2,100 inspectors that help enforce OSHA rules. In an effort to ease the burden on small business owners, the inspectors offer free consultations where they can help employers understand, identify, and plan remedies for workplace hazards. The goal of an OSHA inspector is to improve workplace safety and inspect illness records, not create more work for business owners.

Understanding OSHA regulations is important to business owners for many reasons including, the health and safety of staff and limiting liability risks. OSHA’s purpose is to reduce workplace injury and fatalities, which ultimately benefits the business owner. By creating a safe working environment, the business can grow a reputation for being a clean and caring employer. Employees that can perform their job duties in a healthy workplace contribute to the overall company goals and the employer in the following ways:

  • Reduced employee turnover
  • Increased production
  • Faster training periods
  • Fewer occupational injuries
  • Increased gross profit
  • Reduced workers’ compensation costs

Another compelling reason to care about OSHA regulations is to avoid the consequences of non-compliance. There are serious criminal and civic citations issued to owners of businesses that fail to be OSHA compliant during any safety inspections or in the event of an injury, illness, or death of an employee. There are also financial penalties from the agency for non-compliance including:

  • Violations considered “serious” and “other-than-serious” and posting requirement violations – $14,502 per violation
  • Violations involving failure to abate – $14,502 per day
  • Violations considered willful or repeated – $145,027 per violation

Does OSHA apply to all types of businesses?

Many small business owners, self-employed workers, and independent contractors wonder if the OSHA regulations apply to their businesses. The short answer is that OSHA rules apply to most business owners that have employees. For businesses that are exempt from OSHA compliance, they are still required to follow safety guidelines and report all workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths to OSHA.

The OSH Act is intended to apply to private sector employers as well as some public sector employers in all 50 states and outside jurisdictions under U.S. authority, like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. However, there are some businesses that are partially exempt from OSHA regulations. Exemptions are determined by the size of the company, the state in which the company was incorporated, the general industry of the business, and a few other factors.

Business size

Small businesses with 10 or fewer employees are partially exempt from OSHA regulations. The partial exemption based on size means that the company is not required to keep OSHA safety records and is exempt from routine inspections. The company, however, is still required to maintain a safe working environment and will be required to begin regular OSHA reporting if a fatality occurs at the location or more than three employees are admitted to a hospital within a period of one year.

Regardless of the size of a company, business owners must still provide or keep safety records if it is specifically requested by the OSHA or the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The size of the company, for OSHA regulation purposes, is determined by the number of employees that were working at the business in the prior calendar year.


The state that a small business is formed in and has primary operations in determines the OSHA standards for that company, but businesses that have multiple locations in different states will have to make sure each location understands and complies with that state’s requirements.

The regulations and compliance with the OSH Act vary slightly from state to state, but primarily all follow the same safety outlines. Currently, there are 22 U.S. states that have individual, state-specific, OSHA-approved, employee safety programs. Businesses in those states must follow the state plans set and enforced at the local government level.

Check out the map, available at www.osha.gov to see whether the state your small business operates in follows federal regulations or has its own approved plan.


Some small business owners are exempt from keeping OSHA records and undergoing regular inspections if the business they are running is considered low risk by OSHA’s standards. There are more than 80 industries on the list provided by OSHA, which includes:

  • Schools
  • Restaurants
  • Some retail locations
  • Gas stations
  • Accounting and professional services
  • Dental offices
  • Scientific research
  • Computer science and software

The listed industries are just a small sample of partially exempt businesses, so refer to the website to determine if your small business is considered low risk. Exceptions to this rule include small businesses that are notified in writing that they must keep records and pass inspections by OSHA or an OSHA-approved state agency.

Other exemptions

Small businesses do not have to keep records or have regular inspections if they fall into one of the exempt categories listed above, but there are a few other circumstances where compliance is not required because the employer is exempt from the OSH Act. Those businesses considered completely exempt include:

  • Self-employed individuals
  • Farms employing family members
  • Employers of domestic jobs, like housekeepers and nannies
  • State and local government workers, not run by federal agencies

How can small business owners comply with OSHA requirements?

Compliance with federal OSHA regulations is a multi-step process that is ongoing throughout each year of business. Maintaining a safe workplace for small business owners generally means identifying and rectifying hazards and educating employees on health and safety practices, but those generalizations can be broken down into the following action steps for small business owners.

Create emergency plans

Every business that is required to comply with OSHA regulations must have a documented emergency plan that details exit plans for employees in the case of an emergency. The written and posted plan instructs employees on how to get out of the workplace and the next steps, including a meeting or holding place and further instructions. Emergency plans may be written as part of a business continuity plan but must be able to stand alone to be OSHA compliant.

Fire safety

The fire safety plan documents instructions for employees in the case of a fire. It is separate from the written and posted emergency plan, although it may refer to the emergency plan for exiting instructions. Fire safety, under OSHA’s regulations, also requires that emergency exits are properly identified and always accessible. OSHA does not state that small businesses must have fire extinguishers onsite, although the fire department may require them to approve occupancy. OSHA rules do require that businesses that have extinguishers onsite, train employees on the proper way to access and use them.

Hazardous material procedures

Any business that uses or stores materials or chemicals classified as potential hazards must inform employees that those materials are on the premises and have a formal hazard communication plan in place. When applicable, OSHA requires that those employees are educated about the dangers of the materials and the safety protocols required before handling hazardous materials.

First aid kits

OSHA regulations state that all workplaces have the proper first aid supplies on hand. If the worksite has been identified as housing hazardous substances, then the first aid supplies must be applicable and adequate to handle those specific safety concerns. OSHA also sets parameters as to what is considered a safe distance from an emergency medical facility based on the risk level of the business and its location. If a workplace is outside of those boundaries, then OSHA requires the location to have on-site trained emergency personnel.

Personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) was a topic in many workplaces as employers prepared for employees to return to work after the pandemic. Many workplaces had to implement the use of face masks, gloves, and respirators to protect employees from COVID-19 or other bloodborne pathogens. OSHA sets specific standards on PPE, whether it is related to COVID-19 or simply required by the risk level of the working environment. The OSHA regulations state that if PPE is required in the workplace there must be a dedicated PPE program in place that documents any safety hazards present as well as instructions regarding the PPE.

Recordkeeping requirements

Small businesses that are not exempt from keeping OSHA-compliant records, must follow the guidelines set by OSHA about health and safety recordkeeping and reporting. Employers are required to record work-related illnesses and injuries in the OSHA Log of Work-Related Injuries, which must be made available to any current or former employee. Employers are also required to post specific OSHA publications, including the “OSHA Job Safety and Health: It’s the Law” poster in a common work area.

Tips for managing OSHA regulations in a small business

When a business is just starting or moving into a non-exempt category as determined by OSHA, keeping up with the regulations can be daunting. However, once procedures are in place, staying OSHA compliant is quite simple. We’ve compiled this short list of resources and tips to help your small business manage OSHA regulations.

  • Use OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program for free and confidential guidance on regulations and keep a record to reference the consultation service in the future.
  • Keep a copy of OSHA’s training requirements in the workplace.
  • Organize a safety program, comprised of employees in each department to conduct regular self-inspections of OSHA compliance and lead employee safety and health programs.
  • Review the Small business handbook by OSHA annually for updated rules.
  • Assign a safety officer responsible for monitoring and recording any workplace concerns
  • Download checklists from OSHA’s website

Final thoughts

Most small businesses with more than 10 employees are required to comply with OSHA regulations. The primary goal of the federal standard is to provide a safe workplace for employees. Establishing emergency and fire plans, hazardous materials training, on-site first aid kits and necessary PPE, and proper recordkeeping management systems will help small business owners stay OSHA compliant.

If you need more information about the safety regulations in your area or about qualifying as partially exempt, check the OSHA website or give them a call. If you need to learn about financing options to help your business put the proper procedures and equipment in place, consider reaching out to Biz2Credit for lending options. They were able to help Shihan Troy Binns get the funding he needed to recover from the pandemic and provide a safe workplace for his employees to return to.

Learn about the Biz2Credit financing process

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