You’re Not Really ‘OSHA-Exempt’

Even if your business is exempt from certain reporting requirements, it’s not exempt from safety regulations.

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It’s not complicated. If you have employees, you are subject to OSHA regulations.

“Oftentimes you see people who think they are exempt. There is really no exemption from OSHA,” says one agency official, a compliance assistance specialist in Wisconsin. “For OSHA to have coverage, all you need is an employer-employee relationship.”

If you had 10 or fewer employees in the previous calendar year, you are exempt from OSHA injury and illness recordkeeping — the OSHA 300 log. However, the size exemption still requires those employers to report specific incidents to OSHA. Low-risk businesses may also be exempt from recordkeeping, but that wouldn’t apply to those in the onsite wastewater industry. (Check your state regulations if you are covered by an OSHA-approved state plan or Public Sector Enforcement in your state.)

OSHA reporting requirements apply to all employers, a regulation that was updated on Jan. 1, 2015. In the past, all employers under federal OSHA jurisdiction were required to report work-related fatalities and the hospitalization of three or more employees. The standard was updated to include:

  • Fatalities (report within eight hours)
  • Inpatient hospitalization of one or more employees
  • (report within 24 hours)
  • Amputations (report within 24 hours)
  • Loss of an eye (report within 24 hours)
  • (Report to 800/321-6742 or your nearest OSHA area office during business hours.)

If you experience a workplace accident, the agency official says you may see an OSHA inspector, depending on the severity of that accident. They could also show up for an inspection based on an employee complaint or even media reports. “We sometimes get referrals from police and fire departments,” he adds. “The local district attorney’s office investigates industrial accidents and they also make referrals to us.”

Generally, an OSHA Serious Violation carries a base fine of $7,000. Smaller companies, up to 25 employees, get a 60 percent reduction in penalty, and a sliding scale includes smaller reductions for those with up to 250 employees. Having a safety and health program can also reduce a fine up to 25 percent. However, you may also face a number of citations out of one incident. “It’s pretty expensive to have a serious injury or fatality. It can be devastating, especially for a small company.”

Risk-free help available

OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program is free for all small- and medium-sized businesses. It made 27,000 visits covering 1.25 million workers in 2014, helping companies identify workplace hazards, providing advice on complying with OSHA standards and helping with the establishment of injury and illness prevention programs.

“Any report they generate is confidential,” says the OSHA official. “They have a variety of sample safety programs they can share and can teach you how to develop your own.”

The information is not shared with OSHA. However, if the consultant finds something OSHA would consider a serious hazard, the employer would be responsible for correcting it within a specific time frame. Failing that, the situation would be reported to the local OSHA office for follow-up, though it doesn’t happen very often.

OSHA also has an online Quick Start guide that will help identify applicable OSHA requirements. Onsite wastewater is categorized under Electric Gas and Sanitation Service. On the data and statistics page of OSHA’s website, you can also search inspection reports by SIC code (4952 or NAICS 221320 for onsite wastewater).

A safe workplace is everyone’s responsibility, and OSHA says an effective health and safety program can save $4 to $6 for every dollar invested.


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