Enforcement and Inspection

What to Expect from an OSHA Inspection

Every year OSHA inspects thousands of workplaces across the country. Yours could be one of them. If you know what to expect before the inspector crosses your threshold, you’ll be in the best position to handle the inspection skillfully and successfully.

With a few exceptions, you won’t have advance notice of an inspection.
The inspector will simply arrive with most if not all information OSHA possesses about your history with the agency. The last thing you need is for an inspector to find out he or she is better informed about your facility’s history than you are.

So, if you do not have a thorough knowledge of all interactions with OSHA, correcting that gap should be one of your first priorities. You won’t have time when the inspector arrives.

Opening Moves

Be sure to say at the outset if your facility is enrolled in a voluntary compliance program. Some voluntary programs exempt participants from routine inspections.

You also want to ask the inspector which kind of inspection will be conducted. There are two types of OSHA inspections:

•   Comprehensive—a substantially complete and thorough inspection of all potentially hazardous areas of the establishment
•   Partial—an inspection that is limited to certain potentially hazardous areas, operations, conditions, or practices of the establishment

Either way, all inspections follow the basically same standard procedure:

•   Presentation of the inspector’s credentials
•   Opening conference
•   Examination of records (OSHA illness and injury logs, written safety programs, etc.)
•   Walkaround inspection
•   Closing conference

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Inspection Pointers

Here are some suggestions from Safety.BLR.com that can help you manage an OSHA inspection effectively:

•   Abatement policies. Use the opening conference with the inspector to clarify OSHA’s policy on immediate abatement and quick fixes of violations. Violations that are remedied during the inspection and verified by the inspector may be entitled to penalty reduction.
•   Inspector escort. Put procedures in place to ensure that at no time will an OSHA inspector be unaccompanied by an appropriate organization representative.
•   Employee representatives. Understand that employee representatives have the right to participate in all phases of the inspection. Refusal to allow their full participation will be construed as a refusal to permit the inspection.
•   Confidentiality. Don’t worry about trade secrets. Inspectors must preserve the confidentiality of all information identified as trade secrets.
•   Samples and photos. Don’t be surprised if inspectors collect samples (e.g., air, water, soil) or take photographs and videos. They’re authorized to do so.
•   Employee interviews. Don’t interfere with employee interviews. OSHA places a high value on these interviews. Inspectors have the right to question any employee privately during regular work hours or at other reasonable times during the course of an inspection. The employee has the right at this time to register a complaint with the inspector, who must then investigate the alleged hazard.
•   Employee complaints. Don’t ask the inspector which employee(s) complained and triggered an investigation. OSHA protects the identity of employees who provide information about safety violations.
•   Abatement guidance. Expect the inspector to offer appropriate assistance to guide you in abating workplace hazards. If the inspector isn’t forthcoming, ask for guidance.
•   Violations and citations. Be prepared at the closing conference to review any violations with the inspector to make sure you are on the same page about exactly what citations are involved. Also be prepared to present economic reasons why paying a penalty is not economically feasible if you’re cited for violations. The inspector must make a record of those reasons.

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Acquiring a solid familiarity with what will occur when that inspector does arrive should help make the inspection process less of an ordeal and also ensure that nothing beyond the authority of the inspector occurs.

Tomorrow, we’ll review steps you can take to prepare for an OSHA investigation.

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