What to Do When OSHA Comes Calling: Part 1

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Image: Oleg Dudko

Having an OSHA inspector show up at your workplace can be a stressful situation for any business.  First, don’t panic.  Take a moment to consider how you will accommodate the inspector, and get the right people involved.

Why is OSHA here?

Any of several things could cause an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

  • Report of imminent danger
  • Fatality or catastrophe at work
  • Employee complaint
  • Referral or follow-up

What’s next?

The visiting inspector will want to meet with the business owner, general manager, or the person in charge of operations at your facility.  Other key personnel you may wish to include: your safety director, human resources manager, production manager, engineering manager, and/or safety consultant.  If your business is unionized, the inspector may also want an employee, such as a union rep or a member of your safety committee, to be present.

When you meet the inspector, make sure you check his or her credentials. You also have the right to verify those credentials by calling the nearest federal or state OSHA office.

  • You should have an OSHA inspection action plan to address the level of cooperation you intend to extend to the inspector. Full cooperation is usually the best approach.
  • You can ask for a warrant. Although you have every right to do so, I do not recommend this unless you think that by delaying the inspection, you’ll have time to improve the safety status of your facility.  Bear in mind that an inspector usually can get a warrant very quickly.

What should I expect?

During the opening conference, the inspector will explain the purpose of the inspection, take photos or video, ask questions, and make information requests.

If the inspection has been prompted by an employee complaint, the inspector must provide a copy of the complaint; the employee’s name will be redacted.  He or she will also explain the inspection process step by step. For example: a walkthrough of your facility, then the inspection of written documents, followed by employee interviews.

During the inspection, the inspector may use a camera, video camera, or industrial hygiene testing equipment.  Don’t worry, your trade secrets will be protected, and photos or copies of documents containing trade secrets will not be made public.

Some of the documentation you may be asked to produce during your inspection includes:

  • Injury and illness logs
  • Written safety programs
  • Training records
  • Documentation related to specific safety programs
  • Control of the flow of information

You will be reminded you not to take any adverse action against any employee who speaks to the inspector, complains to OSHA, or speaks out about safety issues in the facility.

Interacting with the inspector

During the opening conference, take detailed notes, and ask questions. Always answer the inspector’s questions directly, but don’t volunteer unnecessary information.  Always be truthful.  Lying to the inspector can lead to a fine, and possibly a year in jail.

The inspector will request your OSHA 300 injury and illness log to make sure you have completed it correctly (up to five years of records) and to check that the accident history is current.

He or she will review any written safety programs, and including hazard communication, emergency plans, to ensure that they meet OSHA regulations.  In addition, safety programs – for example, lockout/tagout assessments, respirator fit tests, and PPE assessments – may be requested.  During the facility walkthrough, the inspector may ask employees if these programs are being followed.

Do your safety training records reflect that your employees are getting required training, and that it meets OSHA standards? This is important.  Not only must you provide the appropriate training, it also has to be documented correctly.

You can control the flow of information to prevent providing the inspector with unnecessary information. Do not provide documents that are not requested. Asking the inspector for a written list of documents requested will help avoid any confusion, and you’ll also have a record of the documents you presented to the inspector.

Be sure to make a copy of all documents the OSHA inspector requests. If possible, have your safety consultant present for the inspection and conferences.

If you work with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) like Staff One HR, you have a team of risk management and safety experts available to assist you.  Proactive prevention is the best course of action, so take advantage of those resources, and have a professional conduct a risk assessment survey at your location.

Contact the author directly at robert.radder@staffone.com.