A workplace safety program remedied more than 6,200 hazards and saved small businesses in Missouri a projected $26.7 million in federal fines over the past two years.
The Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, or SHARP, encourages employers to develop and maintain systems for managing workplace safety and health. In exchange, the business is exempt from inspections conducted by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, for up to three years.
Thirty-one businesses are involved.
"That's 31 out of 120,000 small businesses in the state of Missouri," SHARP manager Daniel Stark said, later adding: "I wish (Missouri businesses) would have a little more interest in it."
The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations recorded 48 workplace deaths and 29,605 injuries in the first four months of 2023. The state agency reported 108 workplace fatalities and 91,668 injuries in 2022, and 142 deaths and 91,808 injuries in 2021.
Most private sector workers in the state are subject to OSHA regulations while state and local government workers are not.
Starting in the early 1980s, OSHA began looking for ways to reduce workplace injury and illness in addition to performing inspections and generating fines, Stark said. It piloted a program that provided inspection exemptions for businesses that established safety and health management systems in consultation with state regulators.
"The program proved to be a success and in 1992 they changed the name of the pilot program to the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, or SHARP," Stark said.
The program is limited to businesses with no more than 250 on-site employees and no more than 500 total employees nationwide. Stark said small businesses don't typically hire an on-site safety director or have resources to implement safety and health management systems.
If invited by an employer, Stark's team of a dozen consultants helps them comply with OSHA regulations and develop safety and health management systems. That has led to some interest in SHARP, he said, because the business can be exempt from OSHA inspections for up to three years while they perfect their management systems.
Electric hazards, container labeling and hazards that may cause worker amputations or cuts are some of what Stark and his team look for, he said.
Businesses often see the immediate benefits of reducing workplace hazards but get bogged down with the introduction of new management principles and practices, Stark said.
"There's a lot of paperwork with that and a lot of documentation so they may have some reservations initially about that process," he said.
Maintaining injury and illness rates below the national average and having a safety and health management system in place are the primary requirements for participation in SHARP.
Businesses that fall below the national average for their industry or receive a poor score from the state on their management system become ineligible.
"Currently we have 31, but every so often a company will not be quite meeting their obligations as far as the safety and health management system goes or their injury and illness rates are too high and they may have to duck out of the program for just a little bit," Stark said. "But usually we try to work with them to get them back to where they need to be to get back in the program so that number kind of fluctuates."
At least one or two businesses typically participate in the agency's 18-month PreSHARP program aimed at getting businesses to lower injury and illness rates to reach SHARP status. None currently are, Stark said.
Stark said he "absolutely" wants the number of SHARP businesses to increase because reducing on-the-job injury and illness means fewer people getting hurt and less money being paid out for workers compensation.
"The more SHARPs you have, the more companies have safety and health management systems," he said. "And that approach of a safety and health management system has been proven to be effective in decreasing injuries and illnesses."
"It's truly an elite group of employers that get into SHARP," he added.