When OSHA Comes Calling: Part 2

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Image: Konstantin Pelikh

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors make surprise visits to businesses across America every day.  If you know what to expect and how best to deal with an OSHA inspection, you can minimize the stress these surprise visits can cause for you and your team.

Assessing your health and safety program

During the worksite visit, the inspector will be assessing your overall safety and health program. The inspector will review your program to make sure it addresses all segments of the OSHA standard.

In addition to the health and safety program, the inspector will review or observe the following:

  • Employee participation
  • Safety committees, and documentation of committee meetings
  • Employee groups responsible for developing safety procedures, or safety suggestions
  • Management’s level of commitment to a safety culture
  • Evidence of a positive safety culture

If these elements are included in your safety and health program, the inspector may feel that your organization is dedicated to employee safety, and that he or she need not look any deeper into your operation. This means that the OSHA inspection could be restricted to its original scope and concentration…and that’s the best news you will hear all day.

During the walkthrough

Wear all required personal protective equipment (PPE), and have PPE available that’s applicable to your operation. Offer PPE to the inspector if he or she does not have any on hand.  Follow the process flow (e.g. start to finish, for manufacturing processes), and start in the area where the complaint (if one has been filed) has been identified. Keep in mind that the inspector also may note apparent violations he or she observes that are in plain view.

Keep track of what OSHA records, and take pictures of the same things the inspector photographs or videos. If they take Environmental Health (EH), samples, take a similar sample of what OSHA samples. Having the same evidence on hand will help you understand what the inspector is looking into, and you can communicate effectively with your safety and risk management representatives.

During the walkthrough, the inspector may point out minor hazards, as well as citable violations. The inspector might also ask any equipment operators about the machines they are operating.  OSHA inspectors have the option to speak with a few employees. On occasion, an inspector will ask you to select a few employees to meet with in a conference room for private interviews. Inspectors also have the option to talk with an employee right on the spot.

Closing conference

During the closing conference, the OSHA inspector and your key personnel will gather in a conference room or office to discuss the inspection and to officially close the book on that part of the process.

In some cases, the inspector might want to delay the official closing conference until a later date, if there are complex issues that require further investigation.  If that’s the case, the inspector likely will conduct an unofficial closing conference to discuss the inspection results so far, and explain why the inspection will remain open. You can also request a delay if you need time to gather key individuals, such as corporate safety personnel or consultants who are not on-site.

If there is no need for a delay, the inspector will go ahead and discuss apparent safety violations, as well as other safety and health hazards that were noted during the walkthrough.

Not all violations will turn into citations, however, and the inspector may not indicate at this point which violations will result in citations.  Regardless, the inspector will discuss all the relevant OSHA standards that were violated.

  • The inspector also will discuss abatement requirements, and may even provide suggestions about how to correct problems.
  • In addition, the inspector will inform you of OSHA programs that are available to help organizations comply with OSHA requirements — for example, the OSHA Consultation Program. These programs can be very helpful and assist you in avoiding future violations and generally creating a safer workplace.
  • After the closing conference, the inspector may discover additional violations that were not discussed at the conference, because they were pending further review. If this happens, the inspector will call you to discuss any additional violations and abatement requirements.

You play an important role in the closing conference. There are three important steps you can take to make sure the conference goes well and your organization and the inspector both have the information needed to proceed with the post-inspection process.

  • Take plenty of notes and listen carefully to what the inspector says. Make sure you understand each of the inspector’s concerns. It’s important that you understand and can differentiate between actual violations that require abatement and other hazards that were pointed out in the walkthrough, which should be corrected but will not result in a citation.
  • Explain any mitigating factors or other information that may help prove why an apparent violation is not an actual violation. For example, you may have previous monitoring results that show employee exposures are below safe exposure limits. If so, this is the time to present your documentation and discuss it with the inspector.
  • Present any documentation demonstrating that you recently became aware of a hazardous situation and are already in the process of correcting it. For example, you might have records of a meeting with safety personnel in which the problem was discussed, and ideas were generated for resolving the problem.

Knowing what to expect from a surprise OSHA inspection makes it a much nicer surprise.  And if you have a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) like Staff One HR standing beside you with Risk Management and Safety experts, that’s even better!  Find out more about a PEO partnership by calling 1.800.771.7823, or contact the author directly at robert.radder@staffone.com.