Every year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspects tens of thousands of workplaces from coast to coast. While the odds of being visited by OSHA are quite small for most companies, it is always best to be prepared.
OSHA conducts inspections for several reasons:
- Someone made a complaint about jobsite safety or health—perhaps a current or former employee, or a nearby resident who is worried about safety or health hazards that could affect the community.
- A fatality occurred in the facility.
- It’s a regularly scheduled inspection.
- It’s a follow-up visit, perhaps to determine if prior violations have been corrected.
Violations depend on the nature of the company’s operations; however, the most often cited OSHA violations for general industry last year included: machine guarding, lockout/tagout, ladders and scaffolding, hazardous chemicals, respiratory protection, fall protection, electrical safety and powered industrial trucks.
Inspections can cover an entire facility, or can be limited to certain areas, operations, conditions or practices. But remember, a limited inspection can be expanded depending on what inspectors find once they get inside. Although companies have the right to require a warrant when inspectors arrive, most prefer not to take a confrontational stance and simply invite the inspectors to enter the facility.
OSHA inspections typically include four basic steps.Opening Conference
During a brief opening conference with managers and employee representatives, compliance officers explain the scope and purpose of the inspection and indicate the records they wish to review. If the inspection was triggered by an employee complaint, the inspector will provide a copy of the complaint, but not the employee’s name.
During the conference, the company should:
Safety and Health Documentation
- Take detailed notes, including names of personnel at the meeting, time and date, what prompted the inspection and what the inspector plans to do.
- Ask plenty of questions to ensure an understanding of the inspection process.
- Answer the inspector’s questions directly. If a question can’t be answered immediately, find the information before the end of the inspection.
- Keep from volunteering unnecessary information that may accidentally highlight a hazard.
- Always be truthful. Lying to an OSHA inspector can lead to a $10,000 fine and a year in jail.
The inspector will ask to examine the company’s OSHA 300 Log and other accident and illness reports. He may ask to see a copy of the company’s hazard communication program, written safety program, employee training documentation, material safety data sheets, respirator fit tests, personal protective equipment (PPE) assessments, lockout/tagout procedures or fire safety programs. He’ll also check to make sure OSHA safety and health posters are displayed properly.
Be sure to control the flow of documents to avoid providing the inspector with unnecessary information. Consider asking the inspector for a written list of the documents he will need. Give the inspector one file or document at a time to keep the inspection focused on specific aspects, and take careful notes on which documents the inspector reviews.
Before entering the production facility or jobsite for the walk-through, make sure the OSHA inspector and any accompanying employees are wearing the required PPE. During the walk-through, the inspector will look for violations of specific OSHA regulations. He has the right to talk to employees and employees have the right to respond. Discussions may be held privately if requested.
The walk-through should be pre-planned, and it usually works best to follow the production flow. If the OSHA inspection was prompted by an employee complaint, take the most direct route to that area of the facility. This will prevent the inspector from being distracted by any other potential violations that are in plain view, but are not part of the reason for the inspection.
If the inspector identifies a hazard that can be fixed, do so immediately. Although the hazard may not technically be considered a violation, resolving it demonstrates a commitment to safety. If the inspector requests to see machinery or equipment in operation, the company may refuse; however, this may prompt the inspector to return later. It is best to grant the request unless the machine/equipment is unsafe to start up or locked out for repair.
Additionally, it is crucial to duplicate everything the inspector records during the walk-through, such as pictures, industrial hygiene samples, sound levels, other measurements and documents. File all of the pieces of documentation together.Closing Conference
The inspection wraps up with a closing conference during which the inspector reviews any violations and discuss possible methods and timetables for correction. The inspector describes the company’s rights and responsibilities and answers any questions. He also explains that violations could result in a citation and fines.
At this time, the company can explain any mitigating factors or other information that may help prove why an apparent violation is not an actual violation. The company also should point out recent hazard abatement progress (e.g., the company recently became aware of a hazardous situation, or violation, and already is in the process of correcting it).
With supervisors and employees fully prepared for a potential inspection, a company will have less to worry about when OSHA comes knocking.
Put the following in an inspection toolbox to avoid a frantic search for important items when OSHA inspectors arrive onsite:
- a digital camera or a video camera to record what the inspector points out as possible violations or issues of concern, as well as to duplicate what the OSHA inspector photographs;
- clipboards, notepads and plenty of pens;
- flashlights to illuminate hard-to-see areas;
- extra PPE for both the inspector and key employees;
- an up-to-date facility map so the inspector can get a feel for the facility and understand how operations are set up;
- a list of critical safety documents and a key for the filing cabinet where they are stored; and
- keys to storage areas or cabinets that contain chemical exposure monitoring equipment.