EHS Management

Three Key Safety Steps for Small Businesses

Are you in charge of safety at a small business? If so, you have your work cut out for you. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), small businesses are more likely to experience workplace injuries and illnesses than larger companies. Let’s take a look at some small business facts and some tips for keeping workers safe in a small business.

Multi-ethnic workers wearing hard hats, talking

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What Is a Small Business?

The definition of a small business is all over the map. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a small business for research purposes as an independent business having fewer than 500 employees. However, SBA’s Office of Size Standards has industry definitions of small businesses for government purposes. For occupational safety and health research purposes, the NIOSH Small Business Assistance Program generally considers small businesses as having fewer than 50 employees. Some states use 100 or fewer employees as the number that defines a small business.

Whatever the number, safety managers at small businesses feel the pinch when it comes to providing resources for safety programs.

Large Number and Big Safety Problem

According to the SBA, there are about 28 million small businesses in the United States, which represent about 49% of private sector employment. In addition:

  • The 28 million small businesses account for 54% of all U.S. sales.
  • Small businesses provide 55% of all jobs and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s.
  • The 600,000-plus franchised small businesses in the United States account for 40% of all retail sales and provide jobs for some 8 million people.
  • The small business sector in America occupies 30% to 50% of all commercial space, an estimated 20 billion to 34 billion square feet.

NIOSH data show that small businesses are more likely to experience workplace injuries and illnesses than their larger counterparts.

When it comes to safety and health, smaller establishments experience a disproportionate number of fatalities when compared with larger firms, and they have higher rates of serious injuries. They typically have smaller safety budgets and, in many cases, especially with the smallest of the small, no trained safety staff.

Even small businesses can follow three key steps to keep their workers safe:

  1. Know the hazards.
  2. Prevent and control.
  3. Train.

JHA—The First Step for Worker Safety

The first step for keeping your workers safe is knowing the hazards they face on the job. Every business, no matter the size, should perform job hazard analyses (JHA) to identify all worksite hazards. Begin by listing all the hazardous jobs and tasks at your facility, and assign a risk priority to each. Next, observe each task, and list the steps required to perform it. Describe the hazards of each step and the potential outcomes.

Next Step—Prevent and Control

After you have identified the hazards, develop preventive and corrective measures. Write procedures for safely performing each job.

In addition, you should continuously review your work environment and work practices to control or prevent workplace hazards. Basic best practices include:

  • Regularly and thoroughly maintain equipment;
  • Ensure that hazard correction procedures are in place;
  • Ensure that employees know how to use and maintain personal protective equipment;
  • Ensure that all employees understand and follow safe work procedures; and
  • Make sure that, where necessary, you have a medical program tailored to your facility to help prevent workplace hazards and exposures.

Training—An Ongoing Task

No matter the size of your business, it is important that everyone at your worksite be properly trained, even contractors and part-time and temporary employees. Key best training practices include:

  • Allow only properly authorized and instructed workers to do any job;
  • Make sure no workers do any job that appears unsafe;
  • Hold emergency preparedness drills;
  • Pay particular attention to workers learning new operations to make sure they have the proper job skills and awareness of hazards;
  • Train supervisors and managers to recognize hazards and understand their responsibilities; and
  • Encourage all employees to report any hazardous conditions to their supervisors.

What have some small companies done to promote safety on a small budget? Tune in to tomorrow’s Advisor for some small business safety success stories.