NIOSH: Small Businesses Often Lack Written Safety Programs

Businesses with less than 100 workers make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. work force, so we can ill afford to ignore this segment, says researcher John Palassis.

According to Palassis, who is with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a recent study of occupational safety and health programs in small businesses found some troubling facts. Researchers observed that businesses with fewer than 20 employees have a lack of occupational safety and health awareness and tended not to have written safety programs, while those with more than 20 workers often had programs because of contractual requirements with larger companies, and because of a fear that they would be cited by OSHA.

Researchers found two common barriers to better safety in small businesses: time was scarce, so owners did not see the benefits of written OS&H programs, and these owners did not perceive themselves as operating a risky business.

While small businesses lacked safety expertise, they showed little interest in free help from OSHA consultation services. Nor were they particularly eager to talk to NIOSH about this issue. Despite the enticement of $100 and a free meal to talk to researchers, one small business owner told NIOSH, "There is nothing you can give us that would make us discuss safety and health with you; no offense, buddy."

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