Most businesses keep government at a distance. But when the government increases its industrial-fine schedule sevenfold, as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently did, that detachment is worth rethinking. Through outreach programs charged with helping employers comply with often complicated safety and environmental laws, companies can tap government experts for free on-site review of potentially hazardous conditions for which a company could be penalized. The procedure is administered either by state OSHA offices or by Labor Department affiliates. (Twenty-three states have their own industrial-health-and-safety agencies.)

"We ask them to review our programs and make recommendations," says Shawn McCoy, safety specialist at $73-million Sun Sportswear, in Kent, Wash. Sun recently called in an expert from its state office (WISHA) to teach management and employees about its new accident-reporting process. "They help you comply without fining you," says McCoy.

Invited observers cannot themselves levy fines. If a serious violation is uncovered, the company is given plenty of time to correct the problem. -- Susan Greco