Enforcement and Inspection

OSHA Telegraphs its Next Punch

The agency has preannounced its next “unannounced inspection” effort. Here’s where it will happen, what to expect, and what to do, if an OHSA inspector shows up at your door.

Perhaps you’ve read newspaper stories in which the local police preannounce ahead of time where and when they’ll be setting up speed radar.

OSHA officials have just done the equivalent. Under the name, “Swept Up in Safety Weeks,” the agency says it will especially target the southeast United States, for compliance enforcement in 2008. The bullseye has been drawn on Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, especially in construction. Agency inspectors will swoop down unannounced in these states more so than they usually do, looking for hazards.

“Construction sites are very visible,” says the BLR website, Safety.BLR.com. “Many an inspection has been initiated by an OSHA compliance officer driving by who believes he or she sees a dangerous condition in plain view.”

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When conditions are observed, OSHA will conduct an immediate inspection, focusing on “the four leading causes of accidents: falls, struck by/crushing events, electrocutions, and caught-in-between events,” says an agency release.

The agency notes that the 2007 version of this program helped reduce construction site fatalities by 10.4 percent, compared to the previous year. This result was achieved through 2,086 inspections in just 4 weeks. Some 1,294 other “on-site interventions” were also conducted.

No matter where you’re located, an OSHA “intervention” can be frightening. Not only can the agency fine your business, it can shut you down. And its findings can lead to private lawsuits or referrals to other agencies. Even if your operation is found faultless, the matter will distract management and may generate related legal and consulting expenses.

What can you expect should OSHA drop by? Here’s the 5-step procedure, as described in BLR’s SafetyWorks, a supplement to our OSHA Compliance Advisor newsletter, along with some ideas to blunt unwarranted charges and minimize the penalties of any violations that do exist:

1. Presentation of Credentials: When an inspector arrives, he or she will first present identification and seek to gain entrance. Check the ID and ask for a business card. You have the right to demand they obtain a warrant to enter, but many experts recommend against this. “It’s the business world equivalent of whacking a hornet’s nest,” quipped one safety writer.

2. Opening Conference. The inspector will tell you the reason for the visit. If it was an employee complaint, you’re entitled to get a copy, but not the name of the complainant.

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3. Examination of Documents. The inspector will ask for your OSHA 300 Log and other accident and injury records. The inspector may also ask to see your written hazard communication program, MSDSs, and your lockout/tagout or other written safety procedures. If you have any doubt that he or she has a right to see something, ask (courteously) what regulation requires it.

4. The Walkaround. This is the heart of the inspection. We’re going to talk a lot more about this in tomorrow’s Advisor, so for now, we’ll move on to the …

5. Closing Conference. At this meeting, the inspector will go over his or her findings, and if there’s a violation, seek methods and a timetable for correction. You will also be told what rights you have and penalties you face if you don’t comply. You can negotiate for more time or lesser penalties. And if things come to loggerheads, you can contest the findings, but you must start that process within 15 days.

The key to coming through this ordeal as unscathed as possible? Experts say keep your wits, act coolly, and while looking to obey the law and protect your workers, seek to protect your business as well.


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