Every year, tens of thousands of small business owners take advantage of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s On-site Consultation Program to make their workplaces safer and healthier at no cost to the business. The federally funded program connects private companies with their state government to support small businesses and ensure their workers are safe on the job. Participating employers have access to expert safety and health advice that can ultimately help them increase productivity and reduce losses due to injuries and workers compensation costs.
Each company has a remarkable story, like that of the East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind, or ETLB.
In 2002, leaders of this nonprofit, which provides job training and employment to the blind, wanted to ensure they were providing a safe workplace and complying with federal safety standards. They were excited to learn that OSHA offered free and confidential advice to small- and medium-sized businesses.
On-site consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. With funding from OSHA, consultants from state agencies and/or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with agency standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs.
In 2016 alone, the agency offered consultation services to approximately 28,000 businesses nationwide, including about 24,000 that were visited for the first time. Most of these businesses were small – the average number of employees was just 48, about half the number at the ETLB.
During the initial facility ETLB walkthrough in 2002, a consultant from the Texas Occupational Safety and Health Consultation Program identified several workplace hazards as well as shortcomings in the company’s workplace safety and health program. The company worked diligently to rectify the deficiencies and workplace injuries declined.
Since then, the staff has continued to work with program consultants to learn to recognize hazards and implement cost-effective solutions, said ETLB safety manager Mitch Irwin. The employers have adopted a zero-tolerance attitude toward workplace hazards, and they rely on worker involvement. Employees from different areas of the company often meet to discuss preventative safety measures and to propose solutions.
As a result, the company has seen reduced injuries and hazards, improved safety and health documentation, and stronger safety and health programs. In fact, ETLB has not experienced a single recordable injury since 2014.
As ETLB leadership’s confidence grew, they began pursuing OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, or SHARP, recognition. SHARP recognizes small employers for maintaining exemplary safety management programs and injury and illness rates that are below the national average.
In 2016, ETLB earned SHARP status and also received the Texas Department of Insurance’s Lone Star Safety Program Award. These awards recognize employers for exemplary safety programs, teamwork, and below-industry-average work-related injury and illness rates. OSHA’s SHARP singles out a company among its business peers as a model for worksite safety and health. About 1,500 sites are active SHARP participants.
With the continued guidance of OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program and their passion for ensuring a safe workplace, ETLB continues to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all of its employees and visitors.
Editor’s note: The “DOL Working for You” series highlights the Labor Department’s programs in action. View other blog posts in the series here.
Patrick Showalter is the director of OSHA’s Office for Small Business Assistance in Washington, D.C.