Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Climbing Higher: For Small Businesses Seeking to Take Their EHS Program to New Heights, There Are Plenty of Low-Cost (and No-Cost) Resources

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Climbing Higher: For Small Businesses Seeking to Take Their EHS Program to New Heights, There Are Plenty of Low-Cost (and No-Cost) Resources

Article excerpt

In today's global economy, safety consultant Jonathan Klane of Fairfield, Maine, has found that most business operations have been "downsized to a lean and mean state." That's especially true, Klane says, for smaller businesses.

"The person running the operation--be it a small-plant manager or the owner of a store or company--is absolutely doing everything," Klane says. "Sales, marketing, R&D, manufacturing, billing--they're just trying to cover so many bases."

With time, manpower and resources often in short supply, small-business owners sometimes push safety to the back burner. Delving into the Code of Federal Regulations to fully understand their environmental, health and safety requirements becomes something to do on a rainy day--when they're not putting out fires and dealing with the day-to-day demands of running a business.

Quin Cheatham, deputy commissioner of INSafe--a division of the Indiana Department of Labor that offers free consultation services, training and other resources to Indiana small businesses--is sympathetic, particularly because she knows that many small businesses "don't always have the financial resources to hire someone specific to occupational safety and health."

"A lot of times you'll see a human resource director or someone in upper management wearing several different hats," Cheatham says. "They not only do health benefits but they also have to worry about being OSHA compliant or they're also doing ISO certification for the environmental and efficiency processes."

While small businesses clearly face some unique challenges when it comes to implementing an EHS program, there's an urban legend that EHS compliance--and assistance with EHS compliance--is a luxury that small businesses can't afford.

Klane, however, counters that services such as hazard assessments, training and assistance with implementing an EHS program "are readily available."

"There are plenty of people out there who can offer those services at low to no cost," Klane says. "All you have to do is look or ask."

While Cheatham wholeheartedly agrees, she notes that "a lot of the people in the position of taking care of health and safety issues in small businesses are simply overwhelmed and are not aware of what is available to them."

"I see very few employers or industries that are purposely putting their employees in danger," Cheatham says. "Most of the time, I think they don't have the tools or don't know about the tools that are available to them, such as the INSafe program."

Free Consultation

As established by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, each state government provides free consultative services for private employers. These services are delivered through state departments of labor, workers' compensation bureaus, OSHA programs, universities and safety and health agencies such as INSafe.

Among the services provided in OSHA's consultation program--which is geared primarily for smaller businesses--a consultant will visit the work site and conduct an on-site hazard assessment. If a problem or violation exists, the consultant will offer abatement recommendations and even provide employee training as well as assistance with implementing the recommendations.

The objective of OSHA's consultation program is to help employers improve their occupational safety and health management systems, and the agency makes it clear that an on-site consultation will not result in OSHA issuing citations or proposing penalties for safety violations.

"We're completely separate from OSHA," Cheatham emphasizes. "When you're under our consultation, you cannot be randomly inspected, and unless there's an imminent-danger situation or there's an accident during [the consultation], OSHA is not called in."

In certain situations in which the consultant observes what OSHA considers a serious violation, the employer and the consultant "are required to develop and agree to a reasonable plan and schedule to eliminate or control that hazard," according to OSHA. …

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