We’ll try to make this sound less like the kind of cheerleadery, easily-ignored corporate hoo-haw that encourages people to contemplate ax murder during staff meetings. Accidents and injuries are, usually, mercifully rare. If that tends to make folks complacent and dismissive of workplace safety controls, the legal liability for an accident resulting from an OSHA violation can close a business down.
First, four rules:
You are legally required to display the Federal or state OSHA poster in your workplace. Traditionally, this is right above the coffee maker or water cooler.
You need to have a copy of all OSHA standards that apply to your type of business available for reference. Most businesses fall under OSHA's General Industry Standards (construction and maritime businesses have different standards). State standards will generally be more strict, so have those ready. The inspectors from OSHA will probably use your copy if they come snooping.
You need to know the recordkeeping requirements and have the necessary forms. Small businesses with 10 or fewer employees throughout the year are exempt from most of the requirements of the OSHA recordkeeping rules, but if you’ve got a gaggle of people working with anything more dangerous than a Snuggie, you still need a workplace safety plan and decent insurance.
You will want to have a copy of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 for reference.
OSHA offers free, confidential safety consultations for small businesses. It’s free – use it. Coming into compliance with OSHA rules can be a serious challenge, depending on how big and how complex your company becomes. There’s a real financial value in getting it right early – it’s less expensive than fixing things when you’re set in your ways.
OSHA says any decent safety plan starts with four things. First and foremost, the folks in charge – this means you – need to care about it. You need to show that you care about it. You need to get your employees to care about it. That might mean assigning safety responsibilities and baking safety into their job performance reviews. It certainly means listening to them when they talk about it. And it means not reenacting an episode of “The Office” when you hold a meeting about it.
Second, you need to know the hazards in your working environment. Third, you need the means to actually control those hazards. And last, everyone working with you needs to be trained to know what those hazards are and how to deal with them.
Hear this, and remember we told you – don’t let safety insurance make you a stupid, heartless jerk.
What we mean is that it may be tempting to think that maintaining a safe work environment is more costly, and therefore less desirable, than having hazard liability insurance. So what if someone gets injured? You're insured, and you didn't have to pay thousands of dollars to fix the hazard that caused the accident. Some employees will accept that kind of cost-benefit analysis, for a while. Most get really pissed off when they think about it. Some of the people quitting jobs in corporate America for entrepreneurship are doing so just to get away from this kind of calculated endangerment. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes and make decisions both you and they can live with.