Knock, knock! Will you know what to do if OSHA shows up at your door?
Because OSHA inspections most of the time are unannounced, a company should preplan its strategy in the event of an inspection. The federal government looks at OSHA penalties not only as a deterrent, but also as a source of revenue enhancement, so six-figure penalties are not uncommon.
According to OSHA’s website, more than 150 citations issued by the agency in 2017 proposed fines in excess of $100,000. More than 30 of these citations proposed fines in excess of $200,000. For many companies, fines of these magnitudes could be crippling. You need to know how to behave yourself during the OSHA investigation so that your company’s future isn’t compromised by easily avoidable fines.
To help you get through these situations, here are the 12 things to help limit the damage that could result from an unexpected OSHA visit.
Restrict Admittance Until Management Personnel Are on Site Never allow the opening conference or the inspection process to commence until the appropriate and TRAINED management personnel are present.
Ask Politely the Reason for the Inspection Why are they at your workplace? Is there a complaint, fatality, targeted inspection, referral-based inspection, or just a random inspection?
Request for a copy of complaint (if applicable) Most inspections are the result of employee complaints. The compliance officer or inspector should provide you with a copy of the specific complaint(s). The employee’s name will not appear on the document. Employees who have registered safety complaints fall under the OSHA Act and are protected from discrimination or retaliation by their employer.
Assign an Employee Representative OSHA inspectors are required to ask for the participation of an employee representative. For organized plant, the union president is asked. For other facilities, the employer may choose a representative to participate.
Limit the Scope of Inspection Show only the areas that the compliance officers need to see. Escort the compliance officer to the targeted area(s) via a route where they are least likely to notice safety violations, even if that route involves walking outdoors.
You May Request Search Warrants Bear in mind that you have the right to refuse an inspection without the presentation of a search warrant. Requesting a warrant will buy time before OSHA returns to conduct the inspection, but this will only delay the investigation and is not a long-term option to avoid the inspection altogether. DURING THE WALKTHROUGH
Stay with the OSHA Compliance Officer Accompany them at all times, with as few personnel as possible.
Take Photographs and Videos OSHA inspectors are instructed to take photographs or create videos to document safety violations. Also, companies should have cameras available and should take photographs and videos of the same items as OSHA. These records will be helpful to reference if a fine is imposed in the months following the investigation.
Do Not Volunteer Information Answer only the questions asked. Provide only those records specifically requested (e.g., crane inspection reports). Compliance officers generally agree to accept requested records by mail after the on-site visit.
Repair Any Small Violations Immediately Fix a broken handrail, cap rebar, readjust grinding wheel work rest, and so on. If you cannot personally handle these issues as you walk with the inspector, direct someone else to handle them as you move on with the inspection. Immediately addressing identified hazards demonstrates good faith and may prevent a citation.
Provide Records Compliance officers will want to review OSHA logs and annual summaries of injuries for the last five years. They will check to ensure the state and federal postings are in place and may also ask about safety programs for hazard communication, lockout/tagout, emergency evacuation, and bloodborne pathogens. DURING THE CLOSING REFERENCE
Promote the Company’s Commitment to Safety The closing conference provides the OSHA compliance officer the opportunity to review apparent violations and other pertinent issues found during the inspection (if any), including input for establishing abatement dates. It also provides an opportunity for you to promote the company’s safety programs and commitment to safety and health. This is a factor OSHA considers in establishing penalty amounts. Once the closing conference is over, OSHA has a maximum of six months to issue a citation (29 U.S.C. § 658(c)). In the meantime, make sure that you address any hazards that the OSHA investigator may have documented or discussed with you during the closing conference. It may be too late to avoid a fine on something that has been documented, but it’s not too late to avoid an employee incident.
Ensure that the workplace is compliant round-the-clock, employees and employers must be have completed suitable training (better certified) and practice Workplace Safety at all times.
Costello Safety Consulting, LLC. always takes great pride in custom-tailoring our programs and services to meet the diverse needs of our ever-increasing client base. We help contractors and businesses throughout the U.S. manage their safety issues through the development of in-house training, safety compliance programs, and risk-based safety assessments.
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