A knock on the door for an OSHA inspection is about as welcome as a call from the IRS. OSHA visits can make even the most conscientious contractor break out in a cold sweat. To make them ever more stressful, almost all are unplanned. You can have an inspector show up at your site for a number of reasons, ranging from an employee complaint to a routine inspection. In addition, any accident that results in a death or serious injury (three or more employees requiring hospitalization) will likely prompt an inspection. Here’s what you need to know:
Since the overwhelming majority of inspections are unscheduled, the best defense is to maintain a constant state of readiness by always being in compliance with OSHA regulations. Pay close attention to the following areas:
- Emergency procedures
- Safety equipment and procedures
- Record keeping
- Prominent placement of OSHA poster
- Records of injuries
- Procedures for notifying management about safety hazards
Simply complying with OSHA regulations isn’t enough. An inspector will want to see proof of compliance. For example, you may do a great job of providing safety training, but if you don’t have a form where employees verify that they completed the training, it might as well have never happened. The inspector will also want to look through your accident records as well as documentation of the process by which employees notify management of hazards. It’s a good idea to keep all of this documentation in one place as part of an “OSHA inspection kit.”
The final step in your preparation involves making a couple of important decisions. First, you have the right to require an inspector to get a warrant, but some experts suggest that it’s not worth it. Most judges willingly grant the warrant, and the inspector may end up grading you more harshly for making him do the extra work. Either way, it’s a decision that should be made in advance, not when an inspector is standing there waiting.
You also have the right to assign someone to accompany the inspector while he’s on the property. Usually, it’s someone who is authorized to act on the company’s behalf as well as when appropriate, a labor worker representing the employees. This is another decision that should be made in advance. If the designated people aren’t on site when an inspector shows up, ask him to wait. Most will be willing to wait a reasonable amount of time (except for emergency inspections).
4. Managing an Inspection
How you react when an inspector shows up can make a big difference. Stay calm, and be polite. Here’s what is likely to happen:
- The inspector will show you his OSHA inspection credentials. If he doesn’t, ask to see them. You also have the right to call and verify the credentials.
- If the company’s authorized representative isn’t on site, ask the inspector to wait.
- The inspector will hold an opening conference, explaining the reason for the inspection and the procedures he will follow.
- Before beginning the walk around, conduct the same worksite orientation you would for anyone else. This shows good faith on your part as well as concern for adherence to safety procedures.
- You have the right to ask questions and to document the inspector’s actions and comments.
- Politely comply with all of the inspector’s requests. Usually, these will include examining your records and interviewing a few employees.
- Answer all questions truthfully and accurately, but be aware that you don’t have to volunteer more information than was requested.
- When possible, have employees correct any violations immediately while the inspector is still there.
- After the walk around, the inspector will conduct a closing conference to discuss his findings and explain next steps. This is a good time to review the OSHA form to make sure it is filled out completely and includes notes, photos, or anything else you provided.
An OSHA inspection is never fun. But it doesn’t have to be a disaster, either. The best defense is to always be in compliance with OSHA regulations and to willingly cooperate with the inspector. With a little preparation and a good attitude, you should be able to get through an inspection with ease.