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Small Employer Outreach in Northwestern Pennsylvania

In OSHA's Region III, the Area Office in Erie, Pennsylvania has an ongoing initiative to reach out to small businesses in northwestern Pennsylvania. This initiative focuses on outreach to employers with less than 100 employees and with no OSHA inspection history. The idea was that employers with no previous OSHA contact would be unfamiliar with OSHA requirements and therefore most in need of compliance assistance.

The Area Office believes that some small employers in Pennsylvania don't understand which OSHA standards apply to their businesses or where they can find compliance assistance. Other small employers think that the OSHA standards do not apply to them because they have less than 10 employees. The Area Office initiative is helping to clear up these misconceptions and to open the lines of communication with employers who previously avoided contact with OSHA.

To kick off the initiative, the Erie Area Office reviewed a site-specific database of employers with no history of OSHA inspections. The Area Office developed a list of 300 employers and sent letters to the first 100 employers on this list. The letters introduced the employers to Joe Chmielewski, the Compliance Assistance Specialist (CAS) with the Erie Area Office, and invited them to call the Area Office if they wanted information on complying with OSHA requirements. The letter assured employers that calling OSHA for assistance would not trigger an OSHA inspection.

After only two employers responded to the first mailing, the Area Office made follow-up calls to the employers who did not respond to the letter. OSHA learned that almost all of the employers were interested in learning about OSHA's compliance assistance resources, but were afraid to call OSHA.

After the follow-up telephone calls and additional outreach, the initiative gained momentum. Mr. Chmielewski gave presentations on OSHA's compliance assistance resources and services to several groups of small employers. As a result, the employers learned that OSHA is available to work with them to improve the safety and health conditions at their workplaces.

A number of these employers eventually organized themselves into "cells" in seven of the 13 counties in northwestern Pennsylvania. The size of the groups ranges from 12 to 35 employers. The Erie Area Office plans to expand the initiative to all 13 of the counties.

These employer "cell" groups have invited Mr. Chmielewski to speak or train on safety and health topics, including an introduction to OSHA, bloodborne pathogens, confined spaces, lockout/tagout, recordkeeping, and navigating OSHA's website.

The Area Office reports that this grass roots project has generated very positive feedback from the participating groups and the local media. The Ridgway Record, a local newspaper, covered a presentation given by Mr. Chmielewski to one of the employer groups in March 2005. The article ("OSHA Is Here to Help You") reviewed how OSHA was reaching out to small employers.

The Area Office believes that this project has helped to build trust and cooperation with small employers. The Erie Area Office and Mr. Chmielewski have enjoyed working with the small employers to help prevent workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths and to ensure that workers return home safely every day.

For more information, please contact Joe Chmielewski, Compliance Assistance Specialist in the Erie Area Office, at Joe Chmielewski.

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