Good employers with strong health and safety programs should not fear visits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, when OSHA knocks at the door it can be a stress producing event. OSHA has stepped up inspections in recent years and, although the agency does not have enough inspectors to get to every business, OSHA does have several programs to target specific industries for inspections. OSHA inspections can be triggered by several events, including employee complaints, random general inspections, serious accidents, targeted inspections of employers with high incident rates and high hazard industries. Preparation is key to reducing stress and will make the inspection process move smoothly.
Every organization should have a plan on what to do during an OSHA inspection. Proactively developing the inspection plan prior to an OSHA visit can make all the difference in the inspection. The plan should include, at a minimum, answers to the following questions:
- Who is the primary contact with OSHA?
- Will the organization ask for a warrant from the compliance officer?
- Who will be in the opening meeting and closing meeting with OSHA?
- Where will the compliance officer be stationed? Note, it should be in a conference room away from others and facility operations.
- Who is identified as an employee representative for OSHA to meet with?
- Who will be notified that an inspection is going to commence and is in progress?
Preparing for and being ready for an OSHA inspection requires more than just what is the plan when OSHA visits. When OSHA arrives at your front door to conduct and unannounced inspection, it is too late to formulate a plan. A few key steps can help make the inspection go smoothly:
- Treat the compliance officer with respect and as a professional.
- Make sure that members of the management team attend the opening and closing conferences.
- Answer all questions honestly.
- Gather the documents requested timely.
- When the compliance officer expresses a concern about what is observed as a potential hazard, correct the issue as soon as possible, preferably while the compliance officer is in the facility.
- Understand the inspection process – the compliance officer will explain the reason for the inspection and the process during an opening conference.
An inspection by OSHA is not the time to show off the facility or organization. By nature the inspection is an adversarial event, but it can be – and should be – conducted in a professional manner. The following are a few pointers on what NOT to do during the inspection.
- Not engaging in the inspection. As a facility manager, you must be engaged.
- Arguing with the compliance officer; don’t do it. If you do not understand something ask a question for clarification, but do not argue with the compliance officer.
- Blaming employees for safety issues or concerns. The compliance officer is identifying hazards, not placing blame. Blaming anyone during the inspection does not build trust or goodwill.
- Freely giving information that is not requested. Provide only the information the compliance officer requests and show the compliance officer only areas of the facility that are requested.
There are several alternatives that can be taken when settling OSHA citations. Each should be evaluated to determine the proper next steps. There are three things that all organizations should do when OSHA citations are issued.
- First, pay attention to the date of the citation(s). A response is required within 15 business days or the citations and penalties become final. Do not let that time lapse without taking some action.
- Second do not simply accept and pay the citation. OSHA offers an informal settlement process where citations and penalties can be negotiated and in some cases removed. The informal settlement process does not require an attorney but you may what to consult your legal advisor before meeting with OSHA.
- Third, there are legal steps resulting in formal hearings that can be taken in resolving OSHA citations. Hire a professional that has been involved in every facet of OSHA citation settlements to assist you.
The best approach to surviving an OSHA audit to be prepared. Development of a strong health and safety process will improve the success in any OSHA inspection. Proactive safety activities will also result in reduced risk, better product quality and improved morale of the workforce. And finally, good, safety engineering design will result in improved production efficiencies and reduced costs.
To learn more about how you can keep your safety program on track, tune in to NAEM’s upcoming webinar on “Proactively Managing for an OSHA Inspection” on Sept. 18 from 1:00-2:00 p.m.