A lesser known resource for smaller businesses that want to understand their potential safety and health hazards is the OSHA consultation service.  Separate and distinct from OSHA’s inspection efforts, which can result in citations and proposed penalties, OSHA’s consultation service is intended to help a business identify potential hazards.  Manufacturers have taken advantage of this service more than most, with 35 percent of the FY 2014 consultation visits being at manufacturing facilities.  Over half of the visits were to companies with less than 25 employees, with another 34 percent at companies with from 26 to 100 employees.

A consultation visit is much like a regular OSHA inspection – except the employer invites the consultation service OSHA in. The most significant difference is that, before asking for assistance, the employer must agree to correct any deficiencies identified during the visit.

The consultation can be comprehensive, or specific to a particular operation. It begins with an opening conference, includes a walk-through of the facility or the process, and ends with a closing conference.  Following the closing conference, the consultant sends a detailed report explaining the deficiencies and confirming abatement periods. The consultant may also provide assistance with developing or maintaining an effective injury and illness prevention program, and can provide training for employees.

A significant benefit for those who use consultation services – a one-year reprieve from OSHA inspections. Smaller businesses that qualify for the Consultation Program’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program or SHARP are given that reprieve for the time their SHARP certification is valid.

Each state has a different consultation service. For example, in Connecticut, the Department of Labor, Division of Occupational Safety and Health, aka “ConnOSHA,” administers the consultation service. In Massachusetts, it’s the Massachusetts Workplace Safety and Health Program in the Department of Labor; in Rhode Island, it is the Division of Occupational Health & Radiation Control in the Department of Health; and in New York, it is the Department of Labor.