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The mission of OSHA-the Occupational Safety and Health Administration-is to make sure that a workplace adheres to certain safety standards. Since there is such a wide range of workplace characteristics, many of OSHA's standards will not apply to your business. One of your first steps should be to find out which standards are appropriate to your workplace. The most direct way is to contact an OSHA office for help.

Categories of industry standards are organized based on materials used, chemicals used, the layout of the building (for emergencies, fires) and manufacturing operations. For each of the standards that seem to apply to your workplace, check the introduction. This is called scope and application. Scope will provide details to help you decide if the standards really do apply to your situation.

What kind of OSHA standards is my business subject to?

Offices typically are affected by these kinds of standards: walking and working surfaces, material handling and storage, health-related environmental control and fire protection. You are required to implement these standards in your workplace.

Can I get a variance from OSHA standards?

If it is difficult to meet a deadline, you can request an extension, or you can ask for a variance (similar to a zoning variance).

My business can hardly afford to comply with some of the OSHA standards. Where can I get some help?

To help meet OSHA standards, there is some financial help available. Loans to support implementation may be available to help you comply with the standards set by OSHA or standards set by your state.

Does the EPA offer support for my small business?

The Environmental Protection Agency offers a wealth of information and support for small businesses. A detailed document is available that covers EPA's small business-specific services. It lists state and local resources, compliance support, education and training and can lead you to sources of information about specific environmental concerns (such as asbestos).

What is the ISO, and why should I care?

The International Standard for Organization is responsible for a series of international business standards. Many businesses feel it is essential to meet these standards, often because they are required to do so by potential purchasers of their products.

The ISO 14000 series encourages organizations to manage the environmental impact of their activities. This is an international system which supports environmental responsibility and impacts a company's ability to participate in international trade. It identifies requirements for environmental management and sets a framework for an organization to control the environmental impact of its activities. Continual improvement is a primary objective.

Documentation for ISO 14000 includes activities such as environmental management systems and audits, labels and product life cycle assessment.