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Safety and health challenges and resources for small businesses.

Lentz TJ; Smith S; Akbar-Khanzadeh F; Bracker AL; Herrick RF; Weems WH; Greife AL
ACGIH Today 2001 Jan; 9(1):19
Understanding Small Businesses: Many of us are familiar with the parable about the three blind men who stumble upon the elephant. One finds the trunk of the beast, and describes the elephant as a thick, flexible hose. Another finds the side of the elephant, and concludes that the animal is a large, coarse wall. The third man finds the tail, thereby recognizing an elephant as a thin, hairy snake. While each man is partially right, none quite develops a comprehensive perception of what an elephant is. It may be a stretch, but this parable can be likened to one occupational health approach to small businesses. Independently, small businesses can be viewed as a subgroup of each of a number of major and diverse industry groupings (i.e., agriculture, mining, manufacturing, construction, service, etc.). But collectively, these small businesses comprise a very sizeable animal. While many of the occupational safety and health challenges facing small businesses are industry-specific, there are definitely similarities across all small businesses. Looking at small businesses this way may help to identify common challenges and develop universal strategies for providing the small business community with safety and health information and other services to protect workers in small businesses. Also like the blind men in the fable, industrial hygienists and other occupational safety and health professionals from labor, industry, government, academia, and consulting can pool their resources and knowledge to create a more comprehensive understanding of small business. How Big are Small Businesses?: A recent publication of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) noted that in private industry, there are more than 63 million establishments (98%) with fewer than 100 employees, and more than 5.6 million (87%) establishments with fewer than 20 employees [NIOSH 1999]. These figures illustrate that small businesses are a vital and substantial segment of private industry. Given the collective size of the small business community in the U.S., it seems prudent to address the work population employed in small business with safety and health information. Many government agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and NIOSH have initiatives for this purpose. ACGIH has also developed a small business committee with the mission to develop and disseminate practical information to the small business community for protecting workers and minimizing workplace hazards. One of the initial tasks of the committee was to create a concise small business guide on How to Develop a Simple, Cost Effective Safety and Health Program. The committee has also sponsored and developed several professional development courses targeting consulting services for small businesses, and is currently conducting reviews of potentially useful, concise reference guides on safety and health issues for small businesses. These reviews and recommendations will be published in a future issue of Today!. The Small Business Committee welcomes input and participation from others. For more information about the committee, or to become involved, ACGIH members are encouraged to contact the ACGIH Staff Liaison, Margie Herbers at or Safety and Health Help for Small Businesses: Occupational health professionals serve as conduits of information for small business employers with whom they come into contact. Industrial hygienists, safety and health specialists, occupational physicians, ergonomists, and others can provide consultation services and at the least direct persons in the small business community to sources of information on workplace safety and health.
Small-businesses; Information-systems; Safety-practice; Safety-measures; Health-hazards; Health-services; Occupational-health-services
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Page last reviewed: July 9, 2021
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division