OSHA and Small Businesses: A Winning Combination

When small businesses tap into OSHA's many resources, everyone benefits. It's a simple equation.

When it comes to reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities in the workplace, more and more businesses are turning to OSHA for help.

Just ask Kelly Olivier, environmental, health and safety coordinator at Anthony Forest Products, an integrated forest products company that has saved more than $1 million in the last 5 years (2001 to 2006) by working with OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program. During the same period, the company spent approximately $50,000 on safety improvements and employee training costs.

Founded in 1916, Anthony Forest Products has participated in OSHA's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) since 1998 and currently has five SHARP worksites located in three states - Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas - which employ between 10 and 100 employees per worksite. Overall, the company employs approximately 450 people.

"Becoming a member of SHARP has enhanced our company's safety program by involving employees and reducing incidents, which has strengthened already good relationships between management and our employees," Olivier said.

In 2005, the company's laminating plant in Urbana, Ark., logged nearly 212,000 hours without any reportable accidents.

"[Being a member of SHARP] makes you feel the company is serious," Anthony employee Russell Hartley said. "They want a quality operation and that makes you feel secure about your company."

Helping Small Businesses Succeed

Since 1971, OSHA has worked to ensure the safety and health of America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual process improvement in workplace safety and health.

OSHA has numerous resources available to help small businesses maintain a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. According to the Small Business Administration, there are more than 25 million small businesses in the United States employing more than 113 million people.

With such a large number of employees in the small business work force, OSHA has a vested interest in doing everything possible to provide employers with the resources needed to protect each of those employees while they are at work.

On-Site Consultation Program

OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program, funded largely by the agency, is a service provided to employers at no cost. Through this program, employers can find out about potential hazards at their worksites, improve their occupational safety and health management systems and even qualify for a 1-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections.

The program primarily is targeted for smaller businesses and is completely separate from the OSHA inspection effort. During the consultation process, no citations are issued or penalties proposed.

During the five-step consultation process, OSHA provides professional advice and assistance in the correction of workplace hazards and on-site training to help the employer identify workplace hazards and eliminate them. The consultant can help establish or strengthen an employee safety and health program, making safety and health activities routine considerations rather than crisis-oriented responses - which ultimately helps the employer improve operations and management of the organization. For more information on OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program, visit http://www.osha.gov/consultation.

SHARP

Another program specifically designed for small businesses is SHARP. Working in conjunction with the On-Site Consultation Program, SHARP recognizes small-business employers that operate exemplary safety and health management systems.

Acceptance into SHARP by OSHA is an achievement of status that singles out employers as models of worksite safety and health. SHARP employers also earn exemptions from programmed inspections during the SHARP certification period.

To participate in SHARP, employers must:

  • Request a consultation visit that involves a complete hazard identification survey.
  • Involve employees in the consultation process.
  • Correct all hazards identified by the consultant.
  • Implement and maintain a safety and health management system that, at a minimum, addresses OSHA's 1989 safety and health program management guidelines.
  • Agree to notify their state's on-site consultation project office before making any changes in working conditions or introducing new hazards into the workplace.

Once all SHARP requirements are met, the on-site consultation project manager may recommend the worksite for final SHARP approval and certification. The employer may be granted up to a 2-year exemption from OSHA's scheduled inspections as a result of SHARP participation. For more information, visit http://www.osha .gov/sharp.

Going the Extra Mile for Safety

Cameron Glass of Broken Arrow, Okla., a glass products prototyping and fabrication company for automotive, agricultural and construction equipment, began operations in 1978 and now employs 100 people. On March 14, 2006, the company was awarded its third SHARP certificate by the Oklahoma OSHA on-site consultation program.

"Any company seeking to significantly improve its safety system and [expecting] immediate results in the long-term prevention of job-related injuries should highly consider OSHA's on-site consultation," said Cameron's safety manager, Alex Skotarek.

Since Cameron began working with OSHA, the company has reduced the number of OSHA recordable accidents from 20 in 2001 to four in 2005 - an 80 percent reduction. Beginning in 2004, Cameron has worked to achieve consistent monthly incident reductions. Over a 2-year period, Cameron's frequency of incidents has declined by 87 percent.

"We did it by implementing an effective safety and health management system and by fostering a safety culture that is prevention-driven, understood by all and practiced throughout the company," Skotarek said.

Diana Jones, director of OSHA's Oklahoma on-site consultation program, emphasized that Cameron Glass earned SHARP certification by virtue of the company's commitment to providing a safe workplace "as well as because of the employees who made it happen."

"They have gone the extra mile in making it a safe place to work," Jones said of Cameron's work force.

Skotarek described working with the on-site consultation program and becoming a SHARP company as a positive experience.

"I have had the pleasure of working with the consultation program for almost 6 years and I would not hesitate to recommend them," Skotarek said. "They are very positive, extremely helpful, have helped us significantly reduce [our] medical costs and have helped shape comprehensive improvements to our safety system. They are professional, provide recommendations for improvement and are readily available to discuss and resolve any OSHA safety issues or concerns."

A SHARP Decline in Injuries

Good Shepherd Nursing Home of Wheeling, W.Va., has achieved the perfect balance between OSHA compliance, protecting its workers and profitability.

In 2000, Good Shepherd was the first health care facility and only the fourth business in West Virginia to have received the SHARP designation.

"With the help of OSHA and the West Virginia on-site consultation service, our work-related injuries dropped so much that our workers' compensation rate declined," said Donald Kirsch, Good Shepherd's administrator.

Good Shepherd saved more than $800,000 between 2000 and 2005 as a result of reduced workers' compensation insurance premiums.

"A highly efficient and highly skilled work force makes fewer mistakes, reduces exposure to liability and keeps insurance premiums low," Kirsch said. The work environment is very good and the workers feel like a close group, he added, noting that the average length of service is 9 years for all staff members and 18 years for administrative staff.

While working with the on-site consultation program, Good Shepherd's safety committee analyzed the injury-incident reports and zeroed in on the fact that many of the facility's injuries were related to heavy lifting. As a result, the facility purchased a mechanical lifting device to assist staff members in moving residents from their beds to their chairs.

Good Shepherd also developed and implemented a comprehensive safety program that included management leadership; employee participation; safety and health training; workplace analysis; and hazard prevention and control.

The safety and health management program resulted in a 62 percent drop in work-related injuries in 1998, putting the company on the road to becoming SHARP.

Good Shepherd received its first SHARP certification in 2000 and then again in 2001, 2003 and 2006 due to its sustained reductions in work-related injuries and illnesses.

"Achieving SHARP has created a new sense of accomplishment and purpose among the staff," Kirsch said.

Good Shepherd opened in December 1970 to provide long-term care services to aged residents of the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and contiguous counties in Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. Good Shepherd has 229 full- and part-time employees.

A Top-Flight Safety System

Western Aircraft Inc.'s commitment to excellent safety and health operations and its work with the Idaho OSHA on-site consultation program paved the way for the company's admittance to SHARP in September 2006.

Western CEO Allen Hoyt has helped lead a companywide commitment to safety, which has improved Western's safety record and culture.

Improving communication between line employees and managers was a crucial beginning. This led to the development of a hazard identification and near-miss reporting system, which is evaluated monthly by Western's safety committee. The company also developed a safety awareness training program for new employees and hired a new full-time safety and health training manager.

"Western Aircraft has placed safety as a core value in its business plan," said OSHA's Seattle Region Administrator Richard Terrill. "In collaboration with employees, the company continues to improve an already excellent safety and health management system."

Western is only the fourth company in Idaho to obtain SHARP designation. According to Hoyt, the cooperation and continuing efforts with Idaho's OSHA on-site consultation program is critical to Western's success.

Western Aircraft is an authorized service center, certified aircraft repair station and worldwide distributor of parts and avionics for many of the world's top aircraft manufacturers. The company has five large hangers, totaling more than 70,000 square feet, and approximately 150 employees.

A Simple Equation

When employees operate under a comprehensive safety and health management system, incidents of injury and illness go down, insurance costs go down and workers' compensation payments go down. At the same time, employee morale goes up, productivity goes up, competitiveness goes up and profits go up.

This is a simple and logical equation. Mathematically and economically, this equation shows that businesses can prosper when they invest in employee safety.

One of OSHA's most popular publications is the OSHA Small Business Handbook. Among its many features, the handbook contains an industry-specific checklist of things employers can do to make their businesses safer and more healthful for their employees. For a copy of the OSHA Small Business Handbook, and to access other pertinent information on small businesses, visit http://www.osha.gov/smallbusiness.

OSHA's Web site, http://www.osha.gov, offers free fact sheets, guidance documents, pocket guides, posters and hundreds of other pages of compliance assistance information that show how employers can help keep employees healthy and safe on the job.

Together, OSHA and small businesses can make sure that employees will be protected and return home to their families each day safe and sound. This winning combination can help to make American workplaces the safest, most healthful and most productive in the world.

Rowe is a writer with OSHA's Office of Communications in Washington, D.C.

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