Small business owners often find themselves in a pickle when a new OSHA regulation is enacted. Chances are that unless you are connected to a source that can supply you with the simple facts about exactly what the new rules cover and how they affect your business, you are definitely behind the curve. You may not even be aware that a new regulation has already been enacted and you find yourself subject to citations and fines. As with most government regulations, ignorance of the law is not a defense.
Contrary to popular belief, OSHA doesn’t just think up a new regulation and then immediately spring it on unsuspecting employers. In fact, it can be years before the final version of a new regulation passes through the exhaustive vetting process. OSHA seeks input from individuals and employers who will be affected by a new regulation – and they take the input seriously. Nonetheless, many employers fail to keep up with the process and are caught unaware when the regulation is enacted.
What Is an OSHA “Scam?”
There is a cottage industry of individuals, companies and organizations out there who make money keeping abreast of all things OSHA. Long before the final version of a new regulatory standard is enacted, these folks develop training materials and compliance packages designed meet the requirements of the new standard. Once their materials are complete, their marketing department begins targeting prospective customers for their products. Pricing for these materials can vary greatly. If your business is even remotely in the area covered by the new rule, you’ve probably seen these sales pitches in your inbox.
Purchasing one of these offerings without a good understanding of how the new rules will affect your business is usually ill advised. Sadly, I have had first-hand experience with business owners who spent hundreds or thousands of dollars for a “compliance kit” to meet the requirements of a new OSHA regulation that really doesn’t apply to them! Unfortunately, some compliance companies prey on small businesses.
As an example, months before OSHA enacted the new regulatory standard on employee exposure to crystalline silica in the workplace, my inbox was peppered with offers for training materials and compliance assistance. Some of these emails were almost threatening in nature – insisting that my company could be subject to huge fines and penalties if I didn’t take advantage of their “free thirty day trial.” As if the emails weren’t bad enough, I also got several sales calls from companies angling for a sale.
How to Avoid Getting Scammed
What’s a business owner to do? Here are some ideas that will help you make the right decision concerning OSHA compliance assistance:
- Bookmark OSHA’s website. If you get wind that a new regulation is coming that may affect your business, this is the place to get the straight facts. OSHA always uses the front page of their website to highlight coming regulatory compliance standards. You can spend a little time on this site and get a good understanding of what you need to do. The website is free and OSHA often publishes sample compliance programs and training materials which are also free.
- Check with your industry’s professional association. An industry association to which you pay annual membership dues certainly wants to make sure their members are up to date on the latest compliance issues. Newsletters and correspondence from your professional organization will often contain exactly what you need – without the scare tactics or pressure to purchase a particular compliance kit or training guide. The best associations often offer members a comparison of the various compliance packages available.
- Don’t purchase the first compliance package that you see. Shop around and weigh the benefits and costs. Make sure that any package you buy exactly suits the needs of your business. If you have a good understanding of how a new regulatory standard applies to your business you may be able to create your own program – without purchasing any prepared materials.
- Don’t rely solely on information or advice you get from friends or competitors in the same industry. Remember that they could be as in-the-dark as you are, and that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
- Get help from a professional. If you don’t have a professional association or a in-house safety department, you may need some additional support. The clients that I serve use a PEO for help with regulatory guidance.
Choosing Your Compliance Method
“Compliance” with an OSHA regulatory standard often involves an employee training component. Training is required on specific elements of the regulation to make sure that employees are aware of the workplace dangers covered by the law. The training must be documented and training records must be maintained by the company. Some OSHA regulatory standards – like the Hazard Communication Act – require “refresher” training for all employees annually, or whenever a new chemical is introduced into the workplace.
“Compliance” is not necessarily a huge expense for a company. Once you reach an understanding of the requirements of the new regulatory standard, you should be able to select from several compliance options that fit your needs.
OSHA looks at abatement of workplace hazards three ways:
- Remove the hazard entirely
- Engineer controls to ensure that employees will not be exposed to the hazard
- Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) issued to exposed employees to keep them safe
Removing the hazard entirely is the preferred way to ensure compliance, but it is probably the most expensive option. Engineering controls is the next best method, but this too can be expensive – especially if safeguards must be fabricated and installed. Using PPE to abate a hazard is OSHA’s least preferred method but it’s often the least expensive for a business owner.
PEOs Can Help With Compliance
I love my job! As the head of the Employers Resource Safety Team, I get to help our client business owners to navigate the maze of regulatory standards put forth by OSHA, DOL, DOT, EPA and all those other alphabets. Our PEO clients appreciate the work our Safety Team does to help them stay current and in compliance with all the rules. And for small business owners who can’t afford to hire a full-time safety professional, partnering with a PEO can relieve them of the mystery and stress of OSHA compliance.