Kevin Ian Schmidt
small business safety

Guide to OSHA Requirements for Small Businesses

Safety is good business and good for business. For the small business owner, initiatives taken to ensure employee and workplace safety are not only the right way to conduct business, but can result in lower costs, increased productivity, healthier profit margins,  and overall stronger employee morale.

What does OSHA require for small business owners?

OSHA maintains a set of six guidelines that are common to most general industry employers. These procedures protect yourself, your assets, the public you are in contact with in the course of your business and any employees you may be carrying.

1. Hazard Communication Standard

If your business uses or comes into contact with any material that is determined to be hazardous, as an employer it is your responsibility to make this known, mark the area clearly and have a plan in place to deal with any emergencies.

You must inform and maintain regular training of your employees regarding the proper use or disposal of any hazardous chemicals , as well as keep any storage areas well-maintained and inspected on a regular basis.

Learn more about the hazard communication standard


2. Emergency Action Plan Standard

Depending on the physical size of your business location and the number of employees you may have, OSHA mandates that an emergency plan be available and ready to implement. The plan describes the expectations of both yourself, as the employer, and what your employees need to do to ensure their safety.

The EHS Center has free components of emergency action plans that might help your company develop a comprehensive plan, check out their free offerings here

Included in this would be a visible evacuation plan, a means to report fires or other emergencies, a guide to any critical business operations that must be done during an emergency and a method to account for all employee whereabouts during the emergency.

Learn more about Emergency Action Plans


3. Fire Safety

Employers must have a fire prevention plan that addresses the potential areas that a fire could initiate in, such as fuel sources or flammable chemicals. The plan also must address the requirement to install fixed extinguishing systems, such as overhead sprinklers, alarm systems and multiple portable extinguishers that are marked and inspected regularly.

Learn more about workplace fire safety


4. Exit Routes

All exit routes must be marked and available for emergency use. Exit access must be free from obstructions and unlocked. Normally, a workplace must have two exits at a minimum, but depending on the location of your business or the number of employees you have, additional exits may be required.

Learn all about OSHA standards for emergency exits


5. Walking / Working Surfaces

All businesses have areas that must be kept clean, free from debris and well maintained. This includes floors, aisles, stairways, ladders and platforms. Most accidents result from falls on ground surfaces or falls from elevated surfaces.

Make sure all surfaces are free from anything that could cause a fall and that all stairways have the correct amount of railings. Any scaffolding or powered manlifts must be properly working.

If you are conducting your business out of your home, these same standards apply. Make sure entrances are free from debris and uneven steps or holes, and that required handicapped access ramps are also easily accessible.

The EHS Center offers slip, trip, and fall program components for free here


6. Medical and First Aid

Medical and first-aid supplies must be kept on-hand and must be available to employees. As an employer, you need to expect that accidents will happen and be ready to address concerns, either minor or major ones.

Learn about OSHA requirements for first aid supplies and medical response


The above six standards apply to any workplace environment, including small business owners. For more information on OSHA requirements, as well as protecting yourself from liability claims, review the OSHA Handbook for Small Businesses.

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