Q & A: OSHA Inspections – Employee Interviews
Question: “Is there a statue that allows OSHA inspectors to record interviews?”
Answer: Well, yes, there is a “directive” (CPL 02-00-098). However, employee interviews are voluntary and employees have the right to refuse; likewise, employees must grant their consent to be recorded on audio or video.
“b. Interview statements may be videotaped or audiotaped, with the consent of the person being interviewed. The statement shall be reduced to writing in egregious, fatality/catastrophe, willful, repeated, failure to abate, and other significant cases so that it may be signed. CSHOs are encouraged to produce a written statement for correction and signature as soon as possible, identifying the transcriber. (See the FOM, Chapter III,D.8.d.(5).)”
“Photographs and Videotapes.
1. Photographs and/or videotapes, shall be taken whenever CSHOs determine there is a need. a. Photographs that support violations shall be properly labeled, and may be attached to the appropriate Violation (OSHA-1B). b. CSHOs shall ensure that any photographs relating to confidential trade secret information are identified as such and are kept separate from other evidence.
2. All film and photographs or videotape shall be retained in the case file. If lack of storage space does not permit retaining the film, photographs or videotapes with the file, they may be stored elsewhere with a reference to the corresponding inspection. Videotapes shall be properly labeled. For more information regarding guidelines for case file documentation with video, audio and digital media, see OSHA Instruction CPL 02-00-098, Guidelines for Case File Documentation for Use with Videotapes and Audiotapes, October 12, 1993, [and any other directives related to photograph and videotape retention.]”
Conducting Employee Interviews.
a. General Protocols.
- At the beginning of the interview CSHOs should identify themselves to the employee by showing their credentials, and provide the employee with a business card. This allows employees to contact CSHOs if they have further information at a later time.
- CSHOs should explain to employees that the reason for the interview is to gather factual information relevant to a safety and health inspection. It is not appropriate to assume that employees already know or understand the agency’s purpose. Particular sensitivity is required when interviewing a non-English speaking employee. In such instances, CSHOs should initially determine whether the employee’s comprehension of English is sufficient to permit conducting an effective interview. If an interpreter is needed, CSHOs should contact the General Services Administration (GSA) tele-interpreter or use the Area Office’s protocol for interpreters.
- Every employee should be asked to provide his or her name, home address and phone number. CSHOs should request identification and make clear the reason for asking for this information.
- CSHOs shall inform employees that OSHA has the right to interview them in private and of the protections afforded under Section 11(c) of the Act.
- In the event an employee requests that a representative of the union be present, CSHOs shall make a reasonable effort to honor the request.
- If an employee requests that his/her personal attorney be present during the interview, CSHOs should honor the request and, before continuing with the interview, consult with the Area Director for guidance.
- Rarely, an attorney for the employer may claim that individual employees have also authorized the attorney to represent them. Such a situation creates a potential conflict of interest. CSHOs should ask the affected employees whether they have agreed to be represented by the attorney. If the employees indicate that they have, CSHOs should consult with the Area Director, who will contact the RSOL.
b. Interview Statements.
- Interview statements of employees or other persons shall be obtained whenever CSHOs determine that such statements would be useful in documenting potential violations. Interviews shall normally be reduced to writing and written in the first person in the language of the individual. Employees shall be encouraged to sign and date their statement.
- Any changes or corrections to the statement shall be initialed by the individual. Statements shall not otherwise be changed or altered in any manner.
- Statements shall include the words, “I request that my statement be held confidential to the extent allowed by law” and end with the following; “I have read the above, and it is true to the best of my knowledge.” 3-19
- If the person making the declaration refuses to sign, the CSHO shall note the refusal on the statement. The statement shall, nevertheless, be read back to the person in an attempt to obtain agreement and then noted in the case file.
- A transcription of any recorded statement shall be made when necessary to the case.
- Upon request, if a management employee requests a copy of his/her interview statement, one shall be given to them.
Additionally, “OSHA can issue a subpoena that compels a witness to submit to an audio or video recorded interview,” but that’s an extreme case.
An OSHA Occupational Safety & Health Officer can of course take notes if consent is granted for an interview.