How to Survive an OSHA Inspection

Industrial inspector wearing hardhat and writing on clipboard

Do you know what to do when an OSHA compliance officer shows up at your business? Officers from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) are not obligated to notify employers ahead of an inspection. Visits are usually unannounced but targeted. Costly mistakes are often made during an OSHA inspection because many employees don’t know what to and not to do when OSHA shows up. These are the most common mistakes we see employees make during an OSHA inspection:

  • Denying the OSHA officer entry to your facility
  • Arguing with the OSHA officer
  • Not having OSHA 300 logs and training records readily available
  • Having an OSHA officer speak to a supervisor or member of management alone
  • Showing the OSHA officer more than they need to see

By knowing what to expect during an OSHA inspection, you and your employees will be prepared for an unannounced visit and can avoid making costly mistakes.

 

Know When You’re likely to be Targeted

 

According to OSHA, their top priorities for inspections are:

1. Imminent danger situations
2. Severe injuries and illnesses
3. Worker complaints
4. Referrals (from other federal, state or local agencies)
5. Targeted inspections aimed at high-hazard industries and workplaces
6. Follow-up inspections

Companies that have previously experienced a death in the workplace are most vulnerable to OSHA inspections. Companies in high hazard industries, like construction and heavy manufacturing, are also a top target for OSHA. Inspections are less likely to occur when you control worker injuries, illnesses, and complaints through risk management. However, an inspection can still happen even if your workplace isn’t a top priority for OSHA. So, make sure your employees understand their roles during an inspection.
 

Identify Key Personnel

Since OSHA inspections are typically unexpected, you should identify key personnel ahead of time. These should be employees who are usually onsite. Typically, a security guard or front-desk assistant will be the officer’s first point of contact, a.k.a. the greeter. A designated employer representative will handle the bulk of the inspection, so this should be the person most knowledgeable of safety and operations. An employee representative can also accommodate the officer while they tour your facility. This group of key personnel should know what to expect during the inspection, so they’re always prepared for an unexpected visit.

Inspection Phase 1: Greeting the Officer

When an OSHA officer arrives at your facility, the greeter should introduce themselves and request the officer’s credentials. The greeter should then verify the officer’s credentials by calling your local OSHA office. Outright denying an OSHA officer entry to your facility and treating them poorly can cause more trouble for you in the long run, so be courteous and professional throughout the inspection. After greeting the officer, other key personnel should be notified of their arrival and meet near the entrance to proceed with the inspection.

Inspection Phase 2: The Opening Conference

During the opening conference, the officer will explain why OSHA selected your workplace for inspection. They will describe the scope of the inspection, walk-around procedures, employer and employee representation and employee interviews. Be sure to ask the exact reason for their visit if they don’t provide a clear description so you can plan out how you will proceed with the walk-around. The officer may request OSHA 300 logs and safety documents during the opening conference so make sure they are readily available.

If the officer is visiting because of a reported accident, they will ask to interview several employees regarding the accident. They can speak with non-management employees in private but are not required to speak with supervisors alone during interviews. Since some supervisors could be unaware of all of your company’s operational and safety procedures, make sure they are accompanied by a more knowledgeable employee, like the risk or safety manager, during their interview. When the officer finishes their interviews, they will need to visit the reported accident location.

Inspection Phase 3: The Walk-Around

At this point, the employer representative will lead the officer on a guided tour of your facility. The officer is only required to see the previously specified accident location. Plan your route accordingly to avoid hazardous areas of your facility that are not part of the inspection. Along the route, the officer may point out some apparent violations that can be corrected immediately. While the law requires that the OSHA officer must cite these hazards, prompt correction is seen as a sign of good faith and can help reduce fines. The officer will also review worksite injury and illness records and the posting of the official OSHA poster during the walk-around. Make sure the OSHA poster is visible, and records are up-to-date. After completing the tour, the officer and key personnel will reconvene for the closing conference.

Inspection Phase 4: The Closing Conference

During the closing conference, the OSHA officer will discuss their findings and possible courses of action, including citations. Don’t expect the officer to issue any fines or citations at this point. OSHA has up to six months after a violation has been reported to issue fines and citations. After the closing conference has wrapped up and the OSHA officer has left your facility, there’s still much work to be done. You and your employees should fully commit to improving safety and risk management at your facility to avoid future OSHA violations and inspections.

Employee safety should be a top priority for your business regardless of the financial penalties OSHA might assess. The BKS Proactive Risk and Insurance Strategy Management (PRISM) platform is designed to help you improve safety at your facility and maintain OSHA compliance. Our online platform contains an abundance of resources available for you to access anywhere, including incident tracking and safety training tracks. Contact a BKS commercial risk advisor to learn more about BKS PRISM.

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