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In 2012, there were approximately 5.7 million businesses in the United States with employees, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In regards to small businesses,

  • 35% of the U.S. workforce is in a firm with < 100 employees,
  • 89% of U.S. businesses have < 20 employees, and
  • 79% of U.S. businesses have < 10 employees.

Although the definition of a "small" business varies widely, particularly as it relates to discussions of workplace safety and health, the characteristics that distinguish a smaller business from a larger one in terms of occupational safety and health capacities include not only number of employees but also the structure (including sole proprietorships), the age of the business (most new businesses are small), and a manager-centered culture (the owner/operator sets the culture of the business). Despite the stereotype of a small business as a small town retail or service firm, some smaller businesses do not fit the stereotype, e.g., high-tech manufacturing startups.

For most occupational safety and health research purposes, the NIOSH Small Business Assistance Program considers small businesses as having fewer than 50 employees. This number is consistent with European Union criteria for defining small enterprises, as well as the Affordable Care Act cutoff for requiring employers to provide health insurance to employees.