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Understanding the Top 5 OSHA Standards for Small Businesses | Staples | Business Hub |®

Are You in Compliance with the Top 5 OSHA Standards for Small Business?

by Claire Parker, Staples® Contributing Writer

Sifting through the hundreds of Occupational Safety & Health Administration laws to find out which standards apply to your business can be daunting. It requires more than patience and a cup of coffee — it requires help.

“The (OSHA) regulations themselves are fairly cumbersome, so it’s difficult to go to the Web site and find info. It’s more complex than that,” says Wes Scott, consulting services director for the National Safety Council (NSC) in Itasca, IL.

So we’re here to make things easier. With the guidance of OSHA and other workplace safety experts, we’ve pulled together the top regulations you should be in compliance with and the best ways to ensure your company is a safe place to do business.

OSHA Regulations to Watch

OSHA maintains an annual list of the most frequent workplace violations, following inspections. These are the most common problems across all industries and OSHA publishes the annual list to help prevent on-the-job injuries and illnesses. Why should these be on your radar? OSHA inspectors hone in on these, so pay attention. Here are the top five from 2013:

1. Fall Protection: The biggest workplace concern for office managers and employees are slips, trips and falls, according to the 2014 Staples Safety Survey. And the NSC shows that these types of injuries account for more than 8.7 million emergency room visits each year. The 1926.501 Fall Protection standard requires employers to safely maintain walking surfaces and areas around them (think handrails, elevator platforms, steps, etc.).

2. Hazard Communication: Hazardous chemicals, such as flammable, reactive, carcinogenic or sensitizing products, must be properly labeled. This includes seemingly everyday items like chlorine and propane — items you likely have in your breakroom or storage closet. Follow the 1910.1200 Hazard Communication standard to identify hazardous materials, and communicate the dangers of each substance through container labeling, OSHA signage, warnings and employee training.

3. Scaffolding: Those seemingly simple frames along sidewalks and the sides of buildings are actually complex. The 1926.451 Scaffolding standard requires proper connections, suspension ropes, counterweights and construction to protect the workers using them and employees walking by. In a Bureau of Labor and Statistics study, 72 percent of workers injured in scaffold accidents attributed the accident either to the planking or support giving way, or to the employee slipping or being struck by a falling object.

4. Respiratory Protection: Don’t discount regulations for respiratory protection, because you think they don’t apply to your industry. They most likely do. The 1910.134 Respiratory Protection standard applies to hazardous situations like dust from mixing dry ingredients, or solvent vapors from paint. Again, items such as dust, fog, smoke and sprays in your breakroom or office can cause sickness and even death when inhaled. So follow the rules to find out which respiratory protection devices should be selected, and the safety and signage programs you need to have in place.

5. Electrical Wiring: Wiring problems come up again and again on this list. Unless you work in a cardboard box, the 1910.305 Electrical — wiring standard applies to your business. Grounding circuits, temporary wiring, conductive paints or coatings, or wiring systems near combustible debris or vents pose major hazards if installed or maintained improperly. This standard is long, and requires in-depth review, because the amounts of electricity (and therefore the hazards) are vast in any workplace.

Staying in the Know

So how do you keep up with these regulations and the many others that may apply to your company? Business owners, safety managers and employees need to seek out information from OSHA regularly.

Sign up for OSHA’s biweekly email newsletter, QuickTakes. It offers updates on regulation changes, news on OSHA initiatives, such as staying hydrated on the job in the summer months, and suggestions for employers and workers to find and prevent workplace hazards.

It’s an easy way to keep up, and the preferred way for busy small business owners and managers. According to the Staples survey, more than half of office managers and employees said they got their safety information from email alerts.

Why It Matters

OSHA states on its Web site that far too many preventable injuries and illnesses occur in the workplace. Since the standards started in the 1970s, accidental workplace deaths have gone down from 14,000 annually to 4,000. So the regulations work. But, Scott says, you have to go beyond OSHA’s requirements to keep your employees and business safe.

“OSHA compliance is important, but it’s only a small piece of the ‘keeping your workplace safe’ puzzle,” he says. Engaging employees to find out what makes them feel safe at work and employing safe business practices across the board, not just in these hot spot regulations, will result in a better bottom line. Providing for a safe environment makes employees want to work for you, and that’s another measure of success.”


Claire Parker has a solid understanding of business from more than a decade of covering the business beat for award-winning national and local publications. She is also a venerable profile writer interviewing subjects from emerging artists to notable physicians. She lives in Wilmington, NC, and relishes Southern gardens, outdoor parties and anything to do with saltwater and sand. Follow her on Google+.

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