Enforcement and Inspection

When OSHA Says, ‘Let’s Take a Walk …’

An OSHA inspection walkaround often determines what charges you’ll face, how long the investigation will last, and how much you’ll pay. Here are tips to keep things under control.

The phrase “walkaround” suggests a pleasant stroll through the country. But its meaning changes radically when the person doing the walking is an inspector from OSHA.

As mentioned in yesterday’s Advisor, the walkaround is that part of an OSHA inspection in which the official tours your site, looking for possible violations. Many consider it the most important part of the inspection.

“What the inspector sees (and doesn’t see) usually determines how extensive the investigation will be, how long it will last, whether you’ll be cited, and if so, how much you’ll pay,” explains safety expert Glenn Demby.

For that reason, it’s vital to know what your rights are on a walkaround and what behaviors to display … and not display. Your aim is to strike a balance: Have inspectors get what information they’re entitled to, but not so much that they can go off on a “fishing expedition,” looking for things not on the agenda.

Here are some suggestions on how to achieve that balance, taken from our popular OSHA Compliance Encyclopedia on CD.

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First, understand what OSHA wants to see. Plan the walkaround to touch on those areas, but not to tour the entire facility. Experts also warn against volunteering to demonstrate any equipment or processes, or giving any information not asked for or required.

Second, designate company representatives to accompany the inspector on the tour. You have a full right to do so. In fact, say BLR experts, have two company people along, and if your shop is unionized, a union rep as well.

Third, document the tour. Take notes, and if the inspector takes pictures or makes measurements, take your own pictures and measurements to verify, or challenge, the results. Doing so saved one company a $42,000 fine, explains Demby, when a company photo showed an inspector using a tape measure incorrectly as he checked an excavation. “OSHA inspectors make mistakes,” Demby writes.

Fourth, know that OSHA has the right to talk to workers during an inspection, however, not to disrupt your business, say, by pulling workers off equipment. Workers may refuse to talk to them, or to be recorded or photographed. But if they agree to talk, they can have someone with them. You can ask what they told OSHA, but they don’t have to tell you. In any case, you should ask if there are any hazards on the job you should know about.

Finally, be sure to be totally honest in the information you do give, and remind your workers to do the same. “Lying and modifying documents can get you 10 years in prison,” note BLR experts grimly. “It’s better to say nothing.”

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Of course the best way to deal with OSHA is to fully understand what is required of you and what rights you have. Many safety professionals feel the best resource for doing so is BLR’s OSHA Compliance Encyclopedia. Developed over decades, and with all its information now conveniently stored on a single, slim CD, here’s what’s included:

–The Complete 29 CFR 1910 general industry and 1926 construction safety regulations, in easy-to-read format.

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–A complete rundown of compliance in all 50 states, including differences state plans have from the federal.

–All OSHA’s directives, variances and fact sheets.

–Prewritten safety meetings—dozens of them, on every commonly needed topic. They’re fully scripted and ready to use, right down to the handouts for workers. A huge timesaver!

–Quarterly updates, so long as you’re in the program. You get a new CD every 90 days, without paying a dime over a program price that’s less than $2 a working day!

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