The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency that regulates the safety and health of business employees. It was established under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970, which was originally passed to prevent workers from being killed or otherwise harmed while at work. It enforces safe and healthy working conditions by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.
OSHA specifies rules and regulations for businesses to follow. But it also specifies certain industries and businesses that are exempt from the OSH Act, and thus, OSHA regulations. If you’re a small business owner, you might be wondering, “Do OSHA regulations apply to my business as well?”
The answer is, it depends. Businesses that have 10 or fewer employees, and those from certain low-risk industries, may not be required to follow all OSHA regulations.
However, it’s good to remember that most OSH Act requirements are designed to keep employees safe. So, even if you’re exempt from the regulations, it’s still a good idea to follow them if they can help you and your employees stay safe while working. Of course, not all OSHA rules are relevant to every type of small business, so be sure to read through them and see what is applicable to your industry, size of the business, and level of risk.
OSHA rules for small businesses
There are several conditions that could make a small business partially exempt from OSHA regulations. OSHA outlines all of these conditions in detail on their website. The exemptions may be based on a company’s size, industry, business type, and location.
Below, we’ve given an overview of the kinds of businesses that are partially exempt from OSHA regulations. Of course, you should always talk to a trusted legal advisor about meeting appropriate standards. That way, you won’t be taken by surprise if it turns out some rules do apply to your business.
Typically, if you have a small business with 10 or fewer employees, you do not have to keep OSHA safety records (unless OSHA or the Bureau of Labor Statistics requests them in writing). OSHA bases your company size on your peak employment for the prior calendar year. So, if you had no more than 10 employees last year, you would likely not have to keep records for the current year.
In such cases, you are also typically exempt from routine inspections by OSHA employees. An exception to the reporting rule is if fatalities occur, or if more than three of your employees are hospitalized within one calendar year. Under these circumstances, you will need to file OSHA reports.
Even if you had more than 10 employees during the past calendar year, you may still be partially exempt from OSHA record-keeping, depending on the risk level of your industry. OSHA has a list of low-risk industries that are exempt from record-keeping and routine inspections. Refer to it if you want to check the status of your business.
Typically, employers are not required to keep OSHA injury and illness records if they fall under classification in the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)—unless they are asked in writing to do so by OSHA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), or a state agency operating under the authority of OSHA or the BLS.
OSHA falls under the United States Department of Labor and functions as part of its enforcement arm. The OSH Act covers most private-sector employees and their workers in all states and territories of the country. However, there are 22 states that have developed their own employee safety programs, approved by OSHA. If your business is in one of these states, you fall under the jurisdiction of your state and will have to follow the specific regulations set by its safety program.
Usually, the state regulations closely follow OSHA regulations, but sometimes the state might set different criteria for exemptions. So, if you’re in one of the 22 states that have separate safety programs, be sure to check the state plans on the OSHA website.
Certain types of employers and businesses are expressly exempt from the OSH Act itself, meaning that none of the rules apply to them. These include self-employed people, farms that employ only immediate family members, and employers of individual household or domestic workers for jobs such as house cleaning and childcare.
Churches and religious establishments, states, and businesses governed by federal agencies are also exempt from OSH Act regulations. Additionally, OSHA does not cover state and local government workers. However, these workers are usually protected under state-approved programs. OSHA does apply to all federal government workers, but it does not apply when a federal agency (like the Department of Energy) regulates a workplace.
No matter the size of your company or the risk level of your industry, all work-related incidents resulting in the hospitalization of three or more employees, or in the death of any employee, must be reported to OSHA. If OSHA suspects health hazards based on employee complaints, lead or silica hazards, or imminent danger, they can inspect at any time. So, even if your business is exempt from OSHA regulations under normal circumstances, you’re still required to report such incidents.
How does OSHA apply to your small business?
There are a lot of factors involved when it comes to OSHA rules for small businesses, and understanding what you must follow vs what you are exempt from as a small business owner can be quite complex. It’s definitely not something you want to take lightly, especially when the health and safety of your workers are at stake.
Businesses themselves are often complex and constantly evolving, so it can be difficult to figure out where you fall under these OSH Act regulations at any given point. It’s always a good idea to consult a trusted legal advisor to clear things up.
If you’re partially exempt from OSHA regulations, you could have greater flexibility as a small business. Knowing your status under the Act can help you avoid the penalties that come with non-compliance, which will, of course, save you money in the long run.
Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As best practices change regularly, you should refer to your trusted advisor for specific counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workplace safety or check your workers’ comp rate in 3 minutes.