Enforcement and Inspection

OSHA’s at your Door: What Comes Next?

You answer your door, and it’s an OSHA inspector. Is it your worst nightmare? Just what, exactly, should you expect? To answer these questions, we visited our sister site, Safety.BLR.com, and found some very helpful tips.

An OSHA inspection is essentially a four-stage process that includes:

  • Presentation of OSHA inspector credentials

  • Opening meeting

  • Inspection walkaround

  • Closing meeting

Your frontline personnel (e.g., receptionists, security personnel) should be trained on how to handle a person claiming to be from OSHA. The greeting should be courteous and professional, but they should always make sure to ask for credentials. In general, OSHA inspectors will:

  • Show their credentials (business cards are not enough — in fact, if someone shows a card that says “OSHA” but doesn’t show credentials, your organization should call the FBI with the information).

  • Explain why they are at your facility.

  • Ask to see the highest ranking company officer available that day.

  • Ask to see the employee representative, e.g., union steward.

Opening Meeting

Once on company property, inspectors hold an opening meeting with company and union officials to let them know what to expect during the inspection. If either the employer representative or employee rep requests separate meetings, that request will be honored. At the opening meeting, inspectors will:

  • Fill out paperwork.

  • Explain why they are at your facility.

  • Explain that employers have the right to do everything the inspector does, e.g., take photos.

  • Explain that employers have the right to ask that certain photos, videos, or other materials be labeled as “trade secret,” and thus confidential, even under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

  • Explain that a company officer and union or other employee representative can go on the walkaround BUT that the inspector has the right to dismiss anyone disruptive to the inspection process.

  • Explain that whoever goes on the walkaround can be subpoenaed in court.

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The Walkaround

The walkaround is exactly what you’d expect — the inspector, accompanied by the company officer and employee representative, walks through the workplace, checking for potentially hazardous working conditions and violations.

The first thing inspectors look for are correct and up-to-date employment law posters, so be sure you always keep those properly displayed. They’ll also look for written plans, such as those for evacuation and emergency preparedness, hazard communication, bloodborne pathogens, lockout/tagout, and respiratory protection.

You will have the opportunity to show the inspector your general safety and health program. If you present a sensible and detailed program, reflecting significant employee participation and acceptance — and high visibility management leadership and commitment — it will be to your benefit.

Your program should include specific, practical elements of worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, training and information dissemination, and regular review of the effectiveness of the program itself.

Inspectors will also check your OSHA logs for records of work-related injuries and illnesses (particularly looking for negative trends), along with accompanying documentation.

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Closing Meeting

After the walkaround, inspectors conduct a closing meeting in which they will:

  • Go over notes, safety hazards, and citations.

  • Set abatement dates for fixing the problems.

  • Explain employers’ rights and responsibilities.

This is a time for focused, active listening. The inspector should discuss all apparent violations, and while it’s not certain you’ll be cited, it’s likely you will.

The inspector should also review your rights, not the least of which is your right to appeal within 15 working days of your receipt of a citation. Another significant right is your opportunity to request an informal conference at the OSHA area office.

If you have any doubts about your rights or other information conveyed, be sure to get clarification. Also explain any mitigating factors or other information that could be helpful to you (don’t wait to receive citations!). Perhaps you can show purchase orders, bids, training schedules, or similar details that indicate that you had begun abatement efforts prior to the inspection.

When the meeting ends and the inspector leaves, what happens next? We’ll look at that in tomorrow’s Advisor, as well as at a tool to help you get your workplace in order and greet OSHA inspections with confidence.