Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (SBREFA)

What is SBREFA?

In 1996, Congress passed the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, or SBREFA, in response to concerns expressed by the small business community that Federal regulations were too numerous, too complex and too expensive to implement. SBREFA was designed to give small businesses assistance in understanding and complying with regulations and more of a voice in the development of new regulations. Under SBREFA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other Federal agencies must:

  • Produce Small Entity Compliance Guides for some rules
  • Be responsive to small business inquiries about compliance with the agency's regulations
  • Submit final rules to Congress for review
  • Have a penalty reduction policy for small businesses
  • Involve small businesses in the development of some proposed rules through Small Business Advocacy Review Panels.

In addition, SBREFA established 10 Small Business Regulatory Fairness Boards to receive comments from small businesses across the country about Federal compliance and enforcement issues and activities, and report these findings annually to Congress. The legislation also gives small businesses expanded authority to recover attorney's fees and costs when a Federal agency has been found to have acted excessively in enforcing Federal regulations.

About the Panel Process

When an OSHA proposal is expected to have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities, the agency must notify the U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA) Office of Advocacy. The Office of Advocacy then recommends small entity representatives to be consulted on the rule and its effects. OSHA next convenes a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel, consisting of officials from the agency, the SBA's Chief Counsel for Advocacy, and the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The panel hears comments from small entity representatives and reviews the draft proposed rule and related analyses prepared by OSHA. A written report of this interagency panel is submitted to OSHA within 60 days. OSHA reviews the report, makes any appropriate revisions to the rule and publishes the proposed rule along with the panel's report in the Federal Register.

The SBA's Chief Counsel participates in the small business advocacy review panels and identifies the small entities that the panel should consult. The chief counsel also submits comments on agency proposals. These comments can be viewed on the Office of Advocacy's home page. Concerns about proposed regulations can be addressed to the SBA's Chief Counsel for Advocacy, 409 3rd. St., S.W., Suite 7800; Washington, DC 20416; or faxed to the Chief Counsel at (202) 205-6928.

SBREFA Provision for Judicial Review

When small businesses believe a rule or regulation will adversely affect them, and that the agency failed to meet its analysis and disclosure obligations under the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980 (RFA), SBREFA provides those small businesses with the opportunity to seek judicial review of the agency's action. The SBA's Chief Counsel for Advocacy can become directly involved in such appeals by filing amicus (friend of the court) briefs in the court proceedings brought by the small business appealing the rule and claiming a violation of the RFA.

Commenting on the Rulemaking Process

After a proposed rule is printed in the Federal Register, anyone can submit comments that must be considered by the proposing agency. This is a good way to participate in Federal rulemaking. To find out what proposed OSHA regulations are available for comment, go to and select "Occupational Safety and Health Administration" from the government agency list at the top right portion of the opening page. (Note: If no OSHA regulation is open for comment, the agency will not appear on the list).

Commenting on Enforcement Actions

Under a law passed by Congress in 1996, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has established an SBA Ombudsman and SBA Regional Fairness Boards to investigate small business complaints about Federal agency enforcement actions.

If you are a small business and believe that you have been treated unfairly by OSHA, you may file an electronic comment/complaint to the SBA Ombudsman over the Internet. Or you may contact the SBA's Office of the National Ombudsman by:

  • Toll Free Phone: (888) REG-FAIR (734-3247)
  • Fax: (202) 481-5719
  • E-mail
  • Mail:
    • Office of the National Ombudsman
    • U.S. Small Business Administration
    • 409 3rd Street, SW, MC2120
    • Washington, DC 20416-0005
NOTE: Filing a complaint with the SBA Ombudsman does not affect any obligation that you may have to comply with an OSHA citation or other enforcement action. Nor does it mean that you need not take other available legal steps to protect your interests.