What to expect when OSHA inspects.
An Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) inspection may strike fear in the heart of any business owner, but it doesn’t need to. Know what to expect and be prepared.
An OSHA compliance officer coming to your door should report to the main office, identify himself or herself, and show proof of who they are. This does not mean that they cannot cite anything they observe before they make contact. Citations have been written based on photos taken from a car or across the street.
Next, the officer will tell you the purpose of the inspection and what will be inspected. If the reason for the inspection is a complaint, the officer may wish to visit only the area concerning the complaint or the entire operation. The officer will invite you to gather your team for the opening conference and will discuss the purpose and scope of the inspection.
The officer may ask to see OSHA logs for as far back as five years. Preplanning is a good idea. Put together an OSHA file and keep it updated. It should have copies of five years of OSHA logs and copies of training records. Copies of written programs are a good idea. Don’t give the officer more information than required, and be sure the records reflect what you do in practice. You can ask the officer to wait for this information for a reasonable time. But do you like it when someone makes you wait?
During the inspection, members of your team may accompany the officer. Use a camera to take pictures of anything the officer photographs. Answer questions, but don’t “over answer” or volunteer too much. Correct any deficiencies that you can immediately once they are pointed out. Good impressions and intentions may pay off when it comes to citation time. Heated arguments are not advised, but you can state your case regarding what is discovered. Most officers will not cite a situation if they cannot offer a correction. Remember that the officer is not concerned with what it may cost you to correct a condition, only with the safety of your employees.
The officer has the right to speak privately with any employee. Employees may decline if they wish. Conversations between an officer and an employee are confidential. If employees want to share what was discussed, they are free to do so.
A closing conference will happen after the inspection is complete, usually before the officer leaves. If there are problems that need more input from OSHA, the officer may postpone the closing. In this case, you will be contacted for a closing conference. OSHA will point out what was found and which issues are citable offenses. You may be interested in what the citations will be, but they will tell you “fines are determined by the area director.” Remember, the officer has a large influence on citations. Maintain a positive attitude so that when fines are calculated, you will receive every reasonable break.
It can take up to six months to receive OSHA’s final report, although you will probably receive it in a few weeks. Fatality inspections or other serious incidents take longer than programmed inspections. Complaint inspection reports may not take long at all. The goal is to respond to the concerned employee and correct the problem quickly.
Once you have received the citations, review them carefully. Then you have to make some decisions. You can schedule an informal conference with the OSHA supervisor within 15 calendar days or up to 20 days in some states. You may formally contest citations in this same time frame. You can have the informal conference, and if you do not agree with the results you can formally contest the citations at that time. If you contest a citation, a hearing will be scheduled with the OSHA Review Commission. You will need an attorney to assist you with the Commission Hearing because you are not allowed to question witnesses without an attorney.
You must post all citations in the workplace for three days or until the problems are abated, whichever is longer. Notice of an upcoming informal conference must also be posted in the workplace.
Probably the most important document received with your citation is the abatement form. Fill it out with a detailed description of how you corrected the problems. Reinspections are likely to make sure problems have been corrected. Failing to correct or not being truthful about the abatements can result in higher fines.