Can a Sole Proprietor Be Cited by OSHA?
Although operating your business as a sole proprietor may provide you with some desirable benefits, being exempt from following the regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is not necessarily one of them. If you do not have any employees in your business, you are probably exempt. However, when you hire an employee, OSHA regulations apply to your business, and you can be cited for violations. In some situations, OSHA regulations may apply even though you have no employees, depending on the type of work you do.
OSHA's authority to inspect your business is not affected by your business designation. Nearly all private businesses in the U.S. with employees are subject to an OSHA workplace inspection. You can expect an inspection if OSHA receives an employee complaint or information regarding a condition at your workplace that presents an imminent danger to employees. OSHA also conducts workplace inspections after any catastrophe results in hospitalizing three or more employees or following a fatality. After an inspection, the OSHA compliance officer reports findings that can provide the basis for a citation. A cited employer must post a copy of the citation at the site of the violation for at least three days or until the violation is corrected.
If your business involves working as a prime contractor, you are probably subject to OSHA regulations even if you don't have any employees. OSHA regulations state that regardless of how a prime contractor and his subcontractors assign work site duties in their contracts, in no case "shall the prime contractor be relieved of overall responsibility for compliance." This means that the prime contractor without employees can be cited for a violation of OSHA regulations due to the conduct of a subcontractor. Similarly, if your business involves working as a subcontractor, you are required to follow OSHA regulations on work sites where other workers are present, even though you employ none of the workers.
If you use temporary employees as a sole proprietor, you are subject to OSHA regulations and can be cited for violations. For example, a temporary agency employer must inform the employee regarding general hazards that may be encountered in the workplace he is assigned. However, when the temporary employee comes to your workplace, you are responsible under OSHA regulations to ensure that the employee is adequately informed and trained regarding the specific hazards that may be encountered at your work place.
The size of your business generally has no bearing on whether OSHA can inspect your workplace and issue citations, even if you only have a few employees. The only type of small business exempt from inspection is a small family farming operation that does not run a temporary labor camp. OSHA exempts some small businesses from record keeping requirements -- if your business has 10 employees or fewer, you do not have to keep records of employee injuries or illness. There is also a partial exemption from programmed safety inspections if your business is considered a low-hazard industry based on OSHA reporting data. OSHA lists these industries periodically in its Enforcement Exemptions and Limitations under the Appropriations Act. However, these industries are still subject to inspections following a catastrophic incident, employee complaint or when OSHA receives information about a potentially serious violation.