Short answer – they can.
I don’t know how many times over the years I have heard various people state that if you have 10 or fewer employees you are exempt from OSHA. I can understand why they have come to this conclusion. However, this train of thought is not totally accurate. So let’s take a closer look.
Looking at OSHA’s compliance directive CPL 02-00-051 – CPL 2-0.51J – “Enforcement Exemptions and Limitations under the Appropriations Act” it outlines who OSHA can inspect and for what reasons. The table below best outlines this information. But in a nutshell if you are part of a farm that has 10 or fewer employees and don’t have any temporary labor camps, Federal OSHA pretty much cannot come in for any reason. If you are a farm with more than 10 employees or you have had a temporary labor camp within the last 12 months then they can inspect you for pretty much any reason.
If you are part of an operation outside of farming with a DART (Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred) rate for the your primary NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) or SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) code that is below the all-industry national average (Low hazard industry), then you are exempt from programmed general safety inspections. However, you are not exempt for programmed health inspections or inspections due to a complaint or serious injury. Which is the most likely reason OSHA is going to visit a small employer anyway.
Now, how do you know if your SIC or NAIC is on the list of exempt? Well the best bet is to click the link and go to appendix A of the CPL 02-00-051 – CPL 2-0.51J – “Enforcement Exemptions and Limitations under the Appropriations Act“.
Keep in mind this is for Federal OSHA only and State programs may and do have different rules.
Please be aware that the section that limited the types of penalties OSHA could assess on small employers was removed from the December 2011 version of the directive. Citations may be issued for any violation found during a complaint inspection whether or not the violation found was a subject of the complaint.
So while small employers do have some exemptions, unless you are a small farm without a labor camp OSHA can inspect your operation. But keep in mind whether OSHA can or can’t come through your doors it is still imperative to keep employee safety first and foremost in all you do.
Note: OSHA defines “Ten or fewer employees” as an employer who employs 10 or fewer employees currently and at all times during the last 12 months.
Note: This article was revised on 06/01/2012 to reflect the 12/23/2012 changes to the OSHA’s compliance directive CPL 02-00-051 – CPL 2-0.51J – “Enforcement Exemptions and Limitations under the Appropriations Act”