Communicating About Tough Issues

Effective communication skills are particularly critical when dealing with difficult issues. Consider the following strategies for communicating about tough issues.

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  • Talk early. People—especially children— often become aware of an issue sooner than you think. By dealing with an issue sooner rather than later, it is easier to maintain your objectivity and self-control, prevent the issue from escalating, and avoid frustration, stress, and misinformation.
  • Talk privately. Set up a time to talk in a private place, where you won’t be overheard or interrupted.
  • Initiate the conversation. You may need to be the one to start the conversation.This can be uncomfortable for many people. Consider saying something such as “I’d like to get your input on something that I think will help us work together more effectively,” or “I need your help with something. Can we talk about it (soon)?”
  • Think ahead of time about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Be specific about what the issue is and give concrete examples of things you have observed and the impact they have had. If you feel uncomfortable discussing an issue, you may want to practice what you would like to say ahead of time or even role play the conversation with a trusted friend or colleague.
  • Explore the other person’s thoughts, feelings and beliefs. This will help you understand how the other person perceives the issue, which can help you address your concerns in a way that takes into account his or her perspective. In addition, allowing the other person to express his or her point of view and be heard will help him or her feel valued, reduce feelings of defensiveness, and encourage the other person to reciprocate by being open to hearing what you have to say.

The above is an excerpt adapted from the article, “Communication Skills for Healthy Relationships.” For more information, please visithttp://www.noaa.gov

Caution! Winter Storm Dangers Linger

When the snow and ice melt, it’s tempting to relieve that cabin fever and hit the roads. But melting snow can cause floods, partially cleared roads may be icy or blocked, creeks and rivers often overflow from the rush of melting snow and ice. Heavy snow may have knocked down power lines and caused gas leaks, both of which can be deadly, but are not obvious at first glance. Follow the tip below to stay safe and check the other links on this site for actions to take before, during and after a winter storm.

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Stay Informed
  • Stay tuned to your local news for updated information on road conditions.
  • Check with your local water company to ensure water is safe to drink, cook and clean with after a major winter storm.
  • Check with utility companies to find out when electricity or gas services may be restored.
  • Before you drive your car, take time to ensure your exhaust pipe is clear
  • Brush all the snow off the car so it doesn’t fall on your windshield while you are driving or fly onto other cars, causing an accident.
  • Leave extra time for blocked, closed or icy roads.
Avoid Flooded Roads and Heed Road Danger Signs
  • Standing water hides many dangers including toxins and chemicals. There may be debris under the water and the road surface may have completely collapsed beneath the water.
  • If it is likely your home will flood, don’t wait to be ordered to leave; evacuate when you know you are danger! Make alternative plans for a place to stay with a relative or friend. If you have pets, take them with you or make arrangements to board them at a facility well away from the flooding danger. Many hotels will take pets but check for options during dry weather.
  • Road closure, cones, sawhorses and other cautionary signs are put in place for your safety. Pay attention to them!
Check Your Home, Contact Family and Isolated Neighbors
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death after storms when areas dealing with power outages.
  • Never use a portable generator inside your home or garage. Review generator safety.
  • Let your family and close friends know that you’re okay so they can help spread the word. Register with American Red Cross’s Safe and Well listings. You can use this resource to search missing friends and relatives as well.

 

The above is an excerpt adapted from the article, “Caution! Winter Storm Dangers Linger.” For more information, please visit www.noaa.gov.

Barriers to Effective Communication

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Barriers to communication are things that prevent people from understanding a message, or understanding it the same way. Some common barriers to communication include:

Poor listening skills. Many people consider speaking the most important element of communication. However, good listening skills are critical to effective communication. They help you better understand the information other people are trying to convey, improve your rapport with others, and improve your problem solving skills.
Language barriers. The words you use to communicate may create a barrier to communication. This can be as basic as communicating with someone who doesn’t speak the same language, or a subtle as interpreting the words you use in a different way. It can also include poor use of language by the communicator (e.g., using words incorrectly, poor grammar), a lack of understanding of the language or context (e.g., a non-technical person trying to communicate about a technical issue), using colloquialisms or jargon, using ambiguous word choices, etc.
Emotional barriers. There is a greater potential for misunderstanding when emotions are involved. For example, a sender who is upset or angry may not be able to effectively communicate his or her feelings and ideas. A receiver in a similar state may ignore or distort what the other person is saying.
Environmental barriers. This can include a number of factors including, interruptions, distractions, physical environment issues (lighting, noise, comfort), talking too softly, physical distance, a physical barrier between sender and recipient, etc.
Timing barriers. The timing of a communication can affect it’s ability to be understood. For example, there may not be enough time to communicate the message fully, or it may be too early or too late in the day for someone to give the communication his or her full attention.
Perceptual barriers. Each person experiences events—including communications—in a way that is unique to him or her. A sender will communicate in a way that makes sense in his or her reality. A receiver understands a communication in a similar manner. However, these two realities may not be the same, so the message may be perceived differently, hindering communication. Variables including age, education, gender, social and economic status, cultural background, temperament, health, religion, political beliefs, etc. can alter perceptions and create barriers to communication.

Filtering. Think of the child’s game of telephone, where a message is passed from one person to another. In most cases, the message, as finally received, is very different from the one that was originally sent. That is filtering. Filtering occurs in a variety of ways that can be a barrier to effective communication, for example, when an assistant, co-worker or spouse takes a message on your behalf, how someone leaves a message on an answering machine, etc.


The above is an excerpt adapted from the article, “Communication Skills for Healthy Relationships.” For more information, please visit http://www.noaa.gov

Assertive Communication Tips

Assertive communication is an communication style that is built on mutual respect. Communicating assertively means that you speak up for yourself, while respecting the right of others to do the same. Being assertive demonstrates self-respect because you are willing to stand up for your rights and interests, and express your thoughts and feelings. It also demonstrates that you are sensitive to the rights of others and willing to work constructively to reach a mutually agreeable outcome.

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Assertiveness is sometimes confused with agression. Assertive behavior promotes mutual respect and results in trust, acceptance and cooperation. Aggressive behavior promotes self interest at the expense of others and results in hostility, mistrust, disrespect and obstructiveness.

Being assertive enables you to:
• Act in your own best interests—including refusing a request
• Stand up for yourself by clearly expressing your rights, interests, thoughts, feelings and personal boundaries
• Demonstrate self-respect by exercising your rights and expecting respect from others
• Demonstrate respect for others by considering their needs and rights—including the right to refuse a request
• Develop and expect trust and equality in relationships
• Negotiate to a mutually acceptable compromise

Assertive communication includes both verbal and non-verbal communications. The following tips can help you communicate assertively.

• Use confident, positive body language. Make eye contact, smile, maintain an upright, relaxed, open posture and use smooth movements.
• Verbalize a clear, confident message. Use “I” statements, be specific, be objective, be positive, be calm, be consistent
• Learn to say no. Use the word “no” and offer an explanation if you choose to. Do not apologize and do not make up excuses.
• Use a firm, pleasant, clear and audible tone of voice.
• State the issue and the outcome you would like to achieve.
• Stay focused, don’t digress—or allow the other person to deflect you by digressing—into other issues, blame or judgment.
• Validate the other person’s feelings and issues.
• Summarize or restate the other person’s point of view.
Assertive communication is a learned skill. The more you practice it, the easier it will become and the better you will be at it.


 

The above is an excerpt adapted from the article, “Communication Skills for Healthy Relationships.” For more information, please visit http://www.noaa.gov

5 Payroll Tax Mistakes to Avoid

If you have at least one employee, you’re responsible for payroll taxes. These include withholding federal (and, where appropriate, state) income taxes and FICA tax from employees’ wages as well as paying the employer share of FICA tax and federal and state unemployment taxes. The responsibility is great and the penalties for missteps make it essential that you do things right.

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1.    Misclassifying workers
Perhaps the hottest audit issue today is misclassifying workers. There’s incentive to treat workers as independent contractors rather than employees because payroll taxes and employee benefit costs are high; a company’s only tax responsibility for an independent is issuing a Form 1099-MISC if payments in the year are $600 or more.

You don’t have the freedom to select the label for the worker; classification depends on whether you have sufficient control over the worker. This essentially means having the right to say when, where, and how the work gets done. Having an independent contractor agreement is helpful in showing that you and the worker do not intend any employer-employee relationships, but it doesn’t bind the IRS, who is not a party to the agreement.

Find information about worker classification from the IRS. When in doubt, consult your tax advisor.

2.    Not using an accountable plan for employee reimbursements
If you normally pay for travel, entertainment, tools or other business costs for employees, you’re wasting employment tax dollars if you don’t use an accountable plan. With this arrangement, you deduct the expenses but avoid all payroll taxes on reimbursements; employees do not have any income from reimbursements.

To be an accountable plan, the employer must formalize the arrangement and set reasonable times for action (the following times are reasonable to the IRS but you can adopt shorter time limits for action):

  • The reimbursable expense must be business related.
  • Advances cannot be made before 30 days of the expense.
  • Employees must account for the expenses within 60 days of the expense.
  • Employees must return excess reimbursements to the employer within 120 days of the expense.

Find details on accountable plans from the IRS.

3.    Failing to keep payroll records
You are required to maintain payroll records and have them available for IRS inspection. These include time sheets, expense accounts, copies of W-2s and other payroll records. Usually, you should keep information for at least four years.

You should also retain copies of Forms I-9Download Adobe Reader to read this link content, which shows an employee’s eligibility to work in the U.S. States may also have certain hiring forms that should be retained (e.g., E-verify forms). Details about retaining I-9s can be found at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Department.

4.    Choosing to pay creditors before the IRS
When a business gets into a cash crush, it may be tempting to pay the landlord, vendor, or utility company before the IRS; don’t! As a business owner, you are a “responsible person” who remains 100% personally liable for “trust fund” taxes (amounts withheld from employees’ wages). This is so even if your business is incorporated or is a limited liability company.

Best strategy: Set aside cash to cover payroll taxes so you won’t use these funds for any other purpose. Find more information about the trust fund recovery penalty from the IRS.

5.    Failing to monitor payroll company activities
Many small businesses use outside payroll companies to handle the job of figuring withholding as well as transferring funds to the U.S. Treasury to cover payroll taxes. However, some of these companies may not do their job, by error or intentionally. As an employer, even if you use an outside payroll company you remain responsible for payroll taxes.

Best protection: Monitor your tax account to see that funds are being deposited on time and in the correct amount. If deposits are made electronically using EFTPS.gov, you can easily see activities in your account.

Conclusion
Stay on top of your employer responsibilities to avoid any penalties or entanglements with the IRS, the Department of Labor, or your state’s agencies.


 

The above is an excerpt adapted from the article, “5 Payroll Tax Mistakes to Avoid.” For more information, please visit www.sba.gov.

17 Easy Ways to Improve Your Business Communications

business-communications-ThinkstockPhotos-176197633Effective communication is an essential part of running a successful business.  Communication – both internal and external – enables smooth operations, increases effectiveness and efficiency, and helps to avoid catastrophes.

Unfortunately, the communication connection is where things have a tendency to go wrong.  Whether it’s verbal misunderstandings, lost emails, confusing texts or poorly-worded email messages, breakdowns in communications can be costly.

With this in mind, here are 17 easy ways you can improve your business communication skills to keep things sailing smoothly:

Digital Communications

Treat Email Like Real Mail – It’s okay to skimp on the text when you’re sending a grocery list to your spouse or an invite to an old college friend, but when dealing with business associates, partners and clients, it’s always better to err on the side of formality.  Treat your email communications as if they were real letters – not just digital missives.

Edit for Clarity – It’s tempting to just jot down a note and send it without a second thought, but you should always go back and edit for clarity.  What you think sounds perfect in your head could be confusing to whoever receives your memo.

Archive Communications – Create folders in which to save old emails that you may need again in the future.  Having a “lost” email conveniently backed up in an archive can save you a ton of time when that email suddenly becomes relevant again.

Check your Facts – You don’t ever want to have the wrong information, as this makes you look like you haven’t done your homework!  For this reason, it’s important to always check your facts before you hit that “Send” button.

Stay Away from Emoticons, Slang and Colloquialisms – Business communications should be direct and to the point.  They should also be written so that a person on the other side of the country could instantly understand what you’re talking about.  If you have even the slightest suspicion that something you’ve written could be lost in translation, skip it.

Always Use the Subject Line – The subject line is not only your recipient’s first introduction to the content of your message, it’s also one key to keeping your message out of the spam box.  Always fill out this crucial field – even if it’s with something as simple as “Hello.”

Avoid the Spam Box – If your messages aren’t getting through to your intended recipient, it could be that they’re being marked as spam.  To prevent this, be sure that the person on the other end of the line is looking for your email and has your email address and domain in their list of “safe” senders.

Interpersonal Communication

Meet in Person – Sometimes, an email or a text just isn’t enough.  Putting a face to a name and a palm to a palm is still the best way to communicate complex ideas and make a good impression, so don’t shy away from person-to-person meetings.

Listen Attentively – Good communication begins with an understanding of what the other party is talking about.  Always listen and give your undivided attention, instead of trying to interject too quickly with your own thoughts.

Focus Your Speech – Think before you open your mouth.  When your speech patterns are cluttered with “umms” and “ahhs,” you defeat the purpose of meeting face-to-face.

Stay on Target – Don’t get distracted by topics that are irrelevant to why you chose to meet in the first place.  It’s easy for your train of thought to derail, but business communication is different than interpersonal communication.  There’s always a point you’re trying to get across, so stick to it!

Avoid Making Communications too Personal – Keeping professional boundaries sacred is important in business communication.  It’s good to become friendly with the people with whom you’re working, but you don’t necessarily have to become friends.  Be polite and engaging, but avoid too much personal drama.

Thank People for Their Input – People always want to feel that their opinions are important – even if you don’t agree with them.  It’s your job to keep the conversation on track.  If the person you’re talking with expresses a contrary opinion or offers an alternative you feel won’t be beneficial, thank them and then explain why you’re not going to use what they’ve suggested.

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Cyber Tip: Be Vigilant with Your Internet of Things (IoT) Devices

These days, more and more individuals and businesses are using web-connected devices that make life a little easier and also enhance company efficiency. But these so-called Internet of Things (IoT) devices—just like computers and smartphones—pose security risks to consumers by cyber criminals who are constantly looking for vulnerabilities to exploit for their own gain.

What are some examples of these IoT devices? They range from thermostats, front door locks, garage door openers, webcams, and coffee makers to security systems, medical devices like heart monitors, smart TVs and refrigerators, automatic devices that control lighting, office equipment like printers, fuel monitoring systems, even baby monitors.

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What’s the danger from a cyber criminal who gains access to your thermostat or coffee maker? Maybe uncomfortable temperatures or cold coffee, but more importantly, once cyber criminals find a way into your home or business through cyberspace, they can move laterally and compromise your network devices, including routers, laptops, phones, tablets, and hard drives to steal your personally identifiable information, identify bank account logins and credit card numbers, send malicious and spam e-mails, abscond with proprietary business information, interfere with business transactions, engage in digital eavesdropping, etc.

Obviously, there are IoT devices that, if accessed, could result in physical safety threats—unlocked front doors, compromised medical devices, and disabled security systems are just a few examples. But these, like any device connected to the Internet, can serve as jumping off points for hackers and other cyber criminals to get at your most sensitive files and information.

So how can consumers minimize these risks?

  • Understand your IoT devices. Many come with default passwords or open Wi-Fi connections, so change to a strong password and only allow the device to operate on a network with a secured Wi-Fi router.
  • Protect your Wi-Fi networks—set up firewalls and use strong, complex passwords, and consider using media access control address filtering to limit the devices able to access your network.
  • Many routers give you the option to set up more than one network—if yours does, separate your computing devices from your IoT devices and spread them throughout several different networks. That way, if cyber criminals break into one network, the damage they do will only be limited to the devices on that one network.
  • Disable the Universal Plug and Play protocol (UPnP) on your router—UPnP can be exploited to access many IoT devices.
  • Purchase IoT devices from manufacturers with a track record of providing secure devices, and set your devices for automatic updates when available.

The above is an excerpt adapted from the article, “Cyber Tip: Be Vigilant with Your Internet of Things (IoT) Devices National Cyber Security Awareness Month.” For more information, please visit www.fbi.gov.

New Years Resolutions: Weight Management

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese can raise your risk of developing potentially serious health problems. However, maintaining a healthy weight is often as simple as eating right and getting regular physical activity. Maintaining or losing weight is formulaic:

  • To maintain your weight, you need to burn as many calories as you take in
  • To lose weight, you need to use more calories than you take in

Assess your weight

To find out where you stand, use the BMI calculator on this page. If you are overweight (your BMI is 25 or higher), combining a low-calorie, well-balanced diet with regular physical activity can help you let go of the extra weight.

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Lose weight

If you find from your BMI that you need to lose weight, remember that healthy weight loss isn’t just about a “diet” or “program.” The key to success is ongoing lifestyle choices that include long-term changes in daily eating and physical activity habits. Realistic goals with small and consistent wins will bring you back to a weight that is healthy for you.

Get a daily dose of physical activity

  • Everyone is different, but 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity activities like brisk walking is a good start for most of us.
  • Being physically active has the added benefit of burning calories, which can help with maintaining a healthy weight.
  • It adds up! You don’t have to do it all in one stretch—ten minutes here, 20 minutes there works well, too.

Make good food choices

Low- and no-calorie alternatives

Sometimes all that’s needed to lose weight are small adjustments—for instance, making the low-calorie choice of an apple versus a bag of chips for a snack—or making the no-calorie choice of tea or coffee instead of a soda.

Green light choices

Some foods, like the alternatives mentioned above, give you a nutritional “green light” like:

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

Fruits and vegetables are a natural choice for nutritionally dense foods, so you can be generous in serving up these highly nourishing treats. In fact, according to ChooseMyPlate.gov, fruits and vegetables should make up half of your plate at any given meal—about 30 percent vegetables and 20 percent fruit. Choosing fruits and vegetables of different colors also adds variety in terms of flavor and nutrition.

How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you need each day? This depends on your age, sex, and levels of physical activity. Visit theFruits and Veggies: More Matters page to learn more and get a personalized recommendation about your daily fruit and vegetable quota.

WHOLE GRAIN FOODS

Grains should also account for a sizable portion of your plate—about 30 percent. The USDA recommends that whole grains make up at least half of those grains. Whole grains not only can give you more fiber, which helps you feel more satisfied.

LEAN SOURCES OF PROTEIN

Lean protein is important to a smart eating plan—it should make about 20 percent of your plate. There are many good sources of lean protein, including:

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Resolve Yourself: Protect Yourself Against Ransomware

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Technology security experts have discovered a new threat to computer networks-a new variety of “ransomware” called VirRansom. This new malware is particularly troubling because once inside the network, it can clone itself and infect every file it finds. If infected, users are required to make a “ransom” payment (typically in bitcoin) before they can access a network or device.

The aggressive nature of the virus can make cleaning a system difficult. If every trace of the malware is not removed, it will easily replicate itself and re-infect the entire network.Security experts stress the importance of keeping a full set of backups at an offsite location, and using asynchronous real-time back-ups that can be performed with a few simple steps. Organizations should also test their system’s restore function to make certain it works. Experts recommend replacing standard mapped drives with Universal Naming Convention (UNC) for folders that are shared, and running software that allows only pre-approved applications to run on the system, also called Whitelisting.

The most crucial protective tactic, however, is continuous employee training on system security measures. Mitch Lipka “A new strain of “ransomware” is striking,” http://www.cbsnews.com (Dec. 8, 2014).

Commentary and Checklist

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) recently released an alert to users of Microsoft Windows, detailing the emerging issue surrounding ransomware.

Like most malware, the infection occurs when a user unwittingly visits an infected website or opens an infected attachment in an email. The malware is then downloaded onto their computer and begins its work. The user will typically see a message that is meant to frighten them into clicking on a link or paying a ransom. Some examples of these messages are:

  • “Your computer has been infected with a virus. Click here to resolve the issue.”
  • “Your computer was used to visit websites with illegal content. To unlock your computer, you must pay a $100 fine.”
  • “All files on your computer have been encrypted. You must pay this ransom within 72 hours to regain access to your data.”

The technology security firm, Symantec, looked at data from one command and control server with 5,700 compromised computers. They estimate nearly 2.9 percent of infected users choose to pay the ransom, which means one server could generate about $394,000 of revenue per month.

Unfortunately, there is no assurance the system will be restored if the ransom is paid, and in some instances, further viruses may be installed when the victim tries to make a payment.

Aside from the financial loss incurred by paying the ransom, business systems infected with malware can experience loss of corporate information and other sensitive data, interruption of daily operations, and damage to the organization’s reputation.

Employers must stay alert to new and growing threats to their information systems. Educating employees on security threats needs to be a continual effort.

US-CERT suggests taking the following steps to protect your organization’s computer networks from ransomware infection:

  • Conduct system backups on a regular basis, and store those backups on a separate device that is offline.
  • Make certain all computers are running anti-virus software that is up-to-date.
  • Maintain updated operating systems and software, installing the latest patches. Create a procedure for users to confirm that updates are being completed in a timely manner.
  • Perform regular employee training that includes safe web-browsing practices and safe handling of email attachments.
  • Keep employees informed on the latest phishing email scams.
  • Create a method in which employees can report instances of ransomware or other malware to the IT department.
  • Notify the FBI if computer fraud is discovered.
The following article is provided courtesy of The McCalmon Group.

Promoting Healthy Work Places

Establishing a safe and healthful working environment requires every employer – large and small – and every worker to make safety and health a top priority. The entire work force – from the CEO to the most recent hire – must recognize that worker safety and health is central to the mission and key to the profitability of a company.

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OSHA’s job is to provide leadership and encouragement to workers and employers to take that responsibility seriously. We continue to help employers and employees focus on reducing injuries, illnesses, and fatalities and to increase their commitment to improved safety and health.

OSHA can help small businesses and others through a variety of tools, including partnership, consultation, compliance assistance, education and training, outreach, and plain language regulations.

healthy_workershutterstock_115275094Why is safety and health important for a small business owner like me?

Safety is good business. An effective safety and health program can save $4 to $6 for every $1 invested. It’s the right thing to do, and doing it right pays off in lower costs, increased productivity, and higher employee morale.

As an employer, you have a duty to protect your workers from injury and illness on the job. Protecting workers also makes good business sense. Accidents and injuries are more expensive than many realize. Costs mount up quickly. But substantial savings in workers’ compensation and lost workdays are possible when injuries and illnesses decline. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can help you.

How can I reduce employee injuries and illnesses?

Compliance with OSHA rules is essential. Compliance along with an effective voluntary safety and health program can help reduce your costs and injuries and illnesses. An organized, carefully crafted plan that systematically focuses on workplace hazards and employee training is critical. Buy-in from every manager and employee is essential. Everyone has to work at safety and health.

How do I develop this program?

Each safety and health program should be tailored to fit the company, to blend with its unique operations and culture, and to help employers maintain a system that continually addresses workplace hazards. There are five elements that every effective program should have: management leadership and employee participation, workplace analysis, hazard prevention and control, safety and health training and education, and program evaluation.

What do you mean by management leadership and employee participation?

Employers and employees work together to make safety and health a priority. Employer and employee involvement communication on workplace and safety and health issues are essential. For example, this partnership can be achieved when you

  • Post the company’s written safety and health policy for all to see
  • Involve employees in policy making on safety and health issues
  • Take an active part in safety activities
  • Hold meetings that focus on employee safety and health
  • Abide by all safety and health rules
  • Show your commitment by investing time, effort, and money in your safety and health program.
This is an excerpt from the article “Q & A’s for Small Business Employers”. For more info, please visit www.osha.gov.