How to Prepare for a Surprise OSHA Inspection
An OSHA inspection can happen at any time. You won’t have advance warning that an inspector is going to show up, so it’s crucial to always be ready. Here are some ways you can prepare:
Know What To Expect
When an OSHA inspector arrives, they should show you their credentials. If you are unsure in any way, call your local area OSHA director to confirm. Then put the inspector to a room while you notify corporate members, managers, employees, and any on-site contractors or vendors that OSHA is on the premises.
The OSHA inspector will begin with an opening conference. This is your opportunity to ascertain the reason for the inspection- is it random, the result of a complaint, or for some other reason? If OSHA is performing a fatality investigation, always have an attorney present and do not allow tape recording.
It’s important to always be polite and treat the inspector in a professional fashion. However, do not over-share and volunteer any extra information. If you have any trade secrets, remember that OSHA must treat them as such by keeping photos and notes confidential.
After the opening conference the OSHA inspector will walk around the site, examining equipment and practices while possibly taking notes and pictures. They may also perform interviews with either the employer and/or employees. Make sure interviews are held in an area separate from the production floor or working space.
Following the walk-around the inspector will conduct a closing conference. At this time you should ask any questions you might have about what problems the inspector found. You should also request copies of any photos and monitoring results the inspector obtained during their walk-around. OSHA may ask you to provide documents at this time as well, such as safety and health policies, previous safety audits, training records and more.
OSHA inspectors cannot issue citations; only the area director is able to do so. However, they do give recommendations as to whether or not you should receive citations. If the inspector has discovered problems during their walk-around, you can discuss appeal rights during the closing conference.
Throughout the entire investigation, be cooperative and responsive but remember that you have certain rights. It is your facility, and you have the right for the inspection to be conducted during a reasonable time (usually work hours), and in a reasonable manner (the inspector should not be outright rude or disrespectful).
An inspection must be completed within 6 months, meaning the inspector can return every day for 6 months if they find it necessary. However, most investigations are wrapped up within a few days.
There needs to be somebody in your organization assigned the responsibility of meeting with the OSHA investigator when they come knocking at your door. The person assigned this responsibility will need to know where all of your company policies and documents are located. There also needs to be a back-up person responsible for meeting with OSHA in case the person originally assigned responsibility is unavailable. Inspectors will typically wait no longer than an hour before insisting that the investigation move forward.
Perform Hazard Assessments & Safety Trainings
Employers are required by OSHA to do a job hazards analysis for each type of job that will be performed in the workplace. Employers should have a form denoting what hazards exist for each job and how they plan to reduce those hazards.
Make sure that an official OSHA poster describing employee rights is clearly displayed in your workplace. When it comes to safety training, ensure every employee has completed their required training. Training needs to always be up-to-date.
Keep Good Records
You can administer all the safety training in the world, but if you don’t document it the training means nothing to an OSHA inspector. Be sure to keep careful records of every training course each employee completes.
In addition, make sure every employee knows your safety policies and where they are located. It’s important that employees sign their names showing they understand the safety policies. It’s smart to have a report of employee complaints handy, and a document showing how you addressed those complaints, as well.
Have all of these documents, including training records, worker compensation files, insurance, and third-party audits, available for the OSHA inspector to review. If any third-party audits have identified safety issues, make sure you have corrected them to avoid receiving a willful citation by OSHA.
Know Your Rights
Before an OSHA inspector ever arrives on your doorstep, it’s a good idea to know your rights and your employee’s rights. Let employees know that they are not required to talk to OSHA. Although it is recommended that employees respond honestly to OSHA questions, they are never under any obligation or requirement to speak with OSHA investigators. Similarly, employees are not required to allow OSHA inspectors to tape record their conversation.
If an employee does choose to speak with an OSHA investigator, that employee is not required to sign a witness statement. If they do choose to sign a witness statement after speaking with OSHA, employees should always read the statement to make sure it is correct before signing their name. If an employee is not fluent in the language in which the statement is written, they can insist that the statement be written in their native language before they sign it, even if this means the inspector has to return at another time to do so. Employees should always request a copy of any witness statements they sign.
Copy the Inspector
It’s a good idea to have a kit ready to carry along with you while an OSHA inspector is on site. The kit should include a notepad and pen so you can record the inspector’s activities, from where they go to what things they examine. You might also want to consider carrying along a digital camera or video camera to get visual records of everything the OSHA inspector observes. For photos of machinery and objects that may be difficult to recognize in a picture, have a small dry-erase board and dry-erase pen ready so you can write the name of the object and place it in the picture as an identifier. The kit should also contain a measuring tape so you can measure whatever the inspector measures, and a flashlight in case you need to see in dimly lit areas.
Perform Periodic Internal Audits
Employers should consistently review paperwork to make sure everything is up-to-date and correct. They should also periodically check to ensure all required safety training has been administered and recorded. Scheduling periodic internal audits in which you walk-through the facility and look for violations as if you were an OSHA investigator can also be an effective way of staying prepared and ensuring you are compliant.