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SMART ANSWERS
By Karen E. Klein
APRIL 20, 2000


Debunking Myths about OSHA Rules

Small businesses are often afraid even to simply ask the agency for information

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Q:  I was told there is a fine for leaving the OSHA Form 200 posted past the required one-month period. We generally leave ours posted all year.

-- J.N., Greenwood, Mo.

A:  Form 200, the injury and illness log that the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires certain businesses to keep all year, must be posted in summary from Feb. 1 to Mar. 1. If you prefer to keep Form 200 posted for the entire year, that's perfectly all right with OSHA, says Charles Jeffress, assistant secretary for labor at the agency.

Problems can arise when the minimum posting requirements are not met. "The more information employers give, the better we like it and the better for the employees," says Jeffress. Many small businesses -- in industries such as finance, real estate, or insurance -- are not required to keep and post such a log, he notes. "Only about 20% of businesses are required to keep it, and those are in the more hazardous industries, such as construction, manufacturing, public transportation, and utilities." he points out.

RELUCTANCE. Rumors and myths about OSHA's (and other government regulatory agencies') Draconian requirements and fines are all too prevalent, especially among small-business owners, Jeffress says. "Too often, people are reluctant to call to ask a question because they're afraid we have caller I.D. on our phones and we'll come after them. The truth is we give advice freely, and we don't pass information over to enforcement," he says. Entrepreneurs with questions can get them answered without fear of being reported for a violation or precipitating an inspection by calling Art DeCoursey, the agency's small-business ombudsman, at 202 693-2000.

OSHA also offers a free hazard-consultation service, Jeffress says. "The agency contracts with the state departments of labor to send in a consultant who will look over the business, identify any potential hazards in the workplace, and issue a plan for how to correct them. They will sign a statement that says no penalties or fines will be assessed if hazards are found, though the employer will have to agree to fix anything major," he says.

Information on the consulting service is available on the OSHA Web site. You can also find contact information for the nearest OSHA office. Jeffress says the agency's 96 offices across the country host outreach events, hold seminars, and distribute information.

The OSHA site also has a page dedicated to small businesses. Entrepreneurs can find information on relevant programs, seminars, and publications as well as download software that helps them identify workplace hazards, assess safety and health program, or calculate the financial impact of occupational illnesses and injuries.


Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an E-mail at smartanswers@businessweek.com, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 46th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.


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