The changes may seem minor, but they could impact how you do business.
Most small business owners would rather chew off a toe than try to understand the latest rules and regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
But these directives, however arcane they may be, go to the heart of small business operations. You have to know this stuff and you have to comply: Penalties can easily run to the thousands of dollars.
As is typically the case, three recent changes are directed at heavy industries—construction and chemicals. But retailers and office-based businesses still have their responsibilities. "Every employer, no matter who they are, has the obligation to provide a safe workplace for their employees," says Ron Severson, CSP, MSM, and senior consultant with TRC Companies, an environmental-engineering and consulting firm in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Here, Severson unravels three of the most recent OSHA developments.
1. Crystalline Silica:
On September 12, 2013, OSHA published a notice of proposed rule-making for Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica. "It's a naturally occurring mineral; it makes up about 12 percent of the Earth's crust, so it is pretty pervasive in the environment," Severson says.
This proposed rule is expected to impact more than 800,000 small businesses and is anticipated to protect close to 1.9 million workers. In order to comply, employers would have to:
- Identify areas of their operations that might possibly result in employee exposure to crystalline silica
- Put systems in place to adequately control potential exposure
- Make sure employees are trained to recognize situations that could result in exposure, and make them aware of the plan to control exposure
OSHA says there will be no significant adverse economic impact to small business but admits small business will be proportionately hit harder than larger competitors, since they generally pay higher unit costs on items like training and exposure-monitoring services. Interested businesses can comment through the OSHA website.
2. Confined Spaces:
OSHA is scheduled to publish a final rule in December 2013 for Confined Space in Construction. The concern here is that hazards that are diluted in open air may concentrate when enclosed in a tunnel, silo, tank or pipeline. While there's already a confined space standard for general industry, the new rule will be the first to specifically address construction.
OSHA says the estimated annual cost of this rule to small businesses will run $42.4 million, but it also says that the rule won't have a significant impact on the economic health of small business. The agency's intention is that the rules for construction "should be as close to the rules for general industry, as many construction companies do work at both construction sites and on behalf of clients in general industry," Severson says. "The concern was that there would be confusion on the part of some construction companies as to which rule applies and when." The new rule should offer some added clarification.
3. Hazard Communication:
By December 13, 2013, businesses will need to comply with the revised OSHA Hazard Communication Standard. While a standard has long been in place, the new rule will make U.S. standards more closely resemble those used abroad. This should make it easier for U.S. firms to export their goods.
The hazards here refer mainly to chemicals. Employees who work with chemicals will need to be trained regarding possible risks and be brought up to speed on the use of a newly updated Safety Data Sheet, which will communicate relevant hazard and control information.
OSHA stated that it did not anticipate a significant economic impact on small businesses and estimated small businesses will shell out $333 million per year over a four-year period to implement all facets of the new rule. This represents 0.004 percent of revenues and 0.07 percent of profits on average for small businesses.
Some of the changes seem minor, like changing black-and-white sections to color on the data sheet. "These are relatively small and simple things, but it is still not the way you've it done for years and years, so it will take some adjustment," Severson says.