BACKGROUND: Problems of improving safety in small business establishments may include a lack of resources, limited unionization, and an informal management structure. METHODS: We evaluated worker and manager perceptions of worksite health and safety using Social Cognitive Theory. We used a business safety scorecard to audit the safety conditions, policies and programs, and work practices. Comparisons were made between the different measures. RESULTS: Businesses with safety committees had 1.7-2.1 times higher proportion of positive safety scorecard items than businesses without committees. Union status and business size were not associated with business safety audit results. Non-English-speaking and less educated employees reported higher levels of knowledge about safety than did their more educated and/or English-speaking peers. CONCLUSIONS: The presence of a safety committee is the single most important indicator of workplace safety. Self-reported understanding of workplace safety is greater among employees who do not speak English or have lower levels of formal education. Future worksite interventions should consider the need for participatory worksite safety committees. Multilingual training programs would help reach a greater proportion of workers.