5 Tips to Know Before OSHA Inspects your Site

Written by Keven Yarbrough, COSS

As a retired OSHA official I’m surprised that after 26 years I get the same response from employers today as I did the first day on the job; Complete surprise and shock that OSHA is inspecting them.

• How did you react the first time you encountered OSHA?
• How did you react the first time you encountered OSHA?
• When OSHA arrives on your site will you know what to do?
• Will your employees know what to do or say?
• Do your employees practice how to receive an OSHA inspector?

Developing and implementing a plan of action on how you and your staff respond to an OSHA site visit is one of the most important things you can do to successfully survive an OSHA inspection.  When inspecting a construction or manufacturing facility the OSHA Compliance Officer (CSHO) will first seek to speak to a foreman, plant manager or business owner.  It’s important that the CSHO speak to a management official before continuing the inspection.  Employers want to know what the CSHO is looking for, what violations will he find and how much will it cost!  Hopefully after reading this article you will realize that an OSHA inspection is a very simple and easily understood procedure.

The OSHA field operations manual (FOM) provides guidelines that compliance officers follow during OSHA inspections.  However, some states, such as but not limited to; California, North Carolina and Michigan, assume safety enforcement responsibility and development there own safety standards. These federally approved states have enforcement powers can and do issue citations and penalties similar to federal OSHA.  Under federal OSHA guidelines an OSHA inspection is a three-phased event; the opening conference, the inspection tour and the Closing conference.  During the first phase of inspection the compliance officer will introduce himself and explain the reason for his visit.  There are many reasons the CSHO may visit your site: a notice of imminent danger, a fatality, an employee complaint or a general schedule inspection.  An imminent danger exists when the CSHO or employee discovers a condition that may cause serious physical harm or death to an employee immediately. During an imminent danger inspection the objective is to remove the worker from the hazard before to the employee is injured.  Fatality investigations are conducted whenever OSHA receives notification that a worker was killed while at work; OSHA will always investigate a work place fatality.

An employee complaint investigation occurs when a current employee complains to OSHA of an unsafe condition our environment.  The employee may contact the local OSHA office or call the OSHA hot line at (800) 321-OSHA and request an on-site inspection.  The complaint can leave his or her name or remain anonymous; OSHA will then investigate the complaint.  Non-employees may complain to OSHA about an unsafe workplace condition that may also result in an OSHA inspection.  Finally general scheduled inspections are conducted in industries that OSHA has identified as a high hazard industry such as in construction, overhead power lines and maritime.

So what can you do to protect your rights during the inspection process?

Tip 1. Develop and implement a plan on how you and your workers will receive the compliance officer when he arrives.
Each employee on the site should know how to engage a CSHO when he arrives on site. Employees should notify upper management upon the CSHO’s arrival.  Never walk a CSHO through your site, remember the compliance officer has the right and responsibility to address any safety and or health issues he sees while on site.  Identify a safe place to engage the compliance officer until the Safety Director or upper management arrives.  On larger sites sub-contractors should meet with the General Contractor (GC) to create a plan of action and stick to it.  The GC must know and understand everyone’s roles and responsibilities when greeting the CSHO.  Working with the GC will prevent the sub-contractor from getting that “Surprise” visit from OSHA on very large job sites.  How you interact with the CSHO can determine what is cited, the classification of citations, and the size of the penalty you may receive. Remember, the CSHO’s actions are limited by the FOM so know your rights.

Tip 2. Know which OSHA Regulations pertain to your industry and familiarize yourself with them.
Get and keep a copy of the 29 CFR 1910 OSHA General Industry Regulations or 29 CFR 1926 OSHA Construction Regulations on each worksite.  Read the Standards or hire a consultant or safety director who will read them for you.  Not knowing the regulation is will not excuse you from receiving OSHA citations or penalties.

Tip 3. Develop and Implement a Safety and Health Program.
The Safety and Health Plan should explain how you will protect your employees from work place hazards.  Protecting workers is not only the right thing to do; it’s an OSHA requirement.  Keep the program simple, a good safety and health plan essentially tells your employers how you will separate them from the hazards associated with the work they do.  Complicated verbose safety plans may look good but are rarely read or implemented.  Keep It Simple.

Tip 4. Know your rights under the OSHA act a CSHO may only enter your site one of two ways; you invite him in or he has a warrant.
Many people fear that requesting a compliance officer to get warrant will incur the anger of the inspector.  The inspector will come back with a warrant and a really bad attitude?  Compliance officers are prohibited from taking any retaliatory actions against an employer who exercises his constitutional right to request a warrant.  Additionally you may stop an inspection at any time or refuse an OSHA inspection all together.  If you feel that the compliance officer is being unprofessional or vindictive you may request a different CSHO if you are having problems with the one at your location.  It’s been my experience that most compliance officers are well-educated professional individuals employers who are prepared and courteous will receive the same treatment in return.

Tip 5. Be a Copy Cat!
Whatever the CSHO does, you do better!  It’s important that you check and verify each element of the site inspection.  Check and verify all measurements, photos and samples recorded by the compliance officer.  You should be documenting everything he documents.

• If the CSHO takes photos, you take the same photos
• If the CSHO takes photos, you take the same photos
• If the CSHO takes measurements, you take the same measurements
• If the CSHO takes samples, you take the same samples
• If the CSHO interviews employees, you interview the same employee
• If the CSHO makes a sketch, you make the same sketch.

If for any reason your documentation is different from the CSHO’s you should discuss what the differences are and clarify them before the CSHO leaves the site.  If all differences cannot be resolved insist that the CSHO reflect disparities in his case file.

Finally an on-site inspection is not a spectator sport you should be fully engaged in the process.  Ask questions where necessary, you can’t be effective if you’re in the dark.  Have a plan to greet an OSHA inspector when he arrives on site, Know your rights during an OSHA inspection, Develop and implement a well thought out safety and health plan.  Read the OSHA regulations that pertain to your industry and be a Copy Cat, your documentation may be the difference between receiving a citation and not receiving one.

Written by Keven Yarbrough, COSS
Yarbrough Safety Solutions Inc
Author, Speaker, Owner


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