How to Prepare For & Pass OSHA Inspections
by Dan Dallenbach, territory sales manager, Roofmaster
By preparing for the possibility of an OSHA inspection, we can have a safer and healthier workplace. The list of work-related injuries is long and frightening. Look at an OSHA inspection as a way to improve safety. Generally, OSHA inspections concentrate on the most hazardous sites found in the workplace. Workplaces with ten or fewer employees are exempt from random inspections by federal OSHA officials. While state laws may empower local inspectors to randomly inspect smaller businesses, low-injury risk businesses are rarely targeted for inspection.
Who is Targeted?
All fatalities and serious injuries must be reported to OSHA and using this data, those industries that have high risk jobs are prioritized for OSHA inspections. Construction worksites, for example, are more likely to be inspected, especially high visibility job sites such as roofing projects. Going through the process of preparing your workplace for an OSHA inspection will help reduce accident rates, even if OSHA is not planning to inspect your workplace or jobsite. There are many resources available to help you prepare for a possible OSHA inspection. Training software, consultants and other supportive products and services are all widely available. Have your records and program documentation in order. A written and documented compliance /safety program is for the protection of both the management and its employees. Consider the creation of an internal safety inspector position as a way to identify potential safety problems. Organize weekly meetings with appropriate staff and to conduct inspections using internal staff once a month as a practice OSHA inspection. These inspections should note items of concern, the necessary corrective action, and complete the appropriate documentation whether at the workplace or a job site.
When the Inspector Arrives
OSHA often conducts inspections without advance notice, but employers have the right to require compliance officers to obtain an inspection warrant before entering the worksite. You should have a designated person who can be called to immediately greet the inspector and review their credentials. You should also have a designated inspection team that can be quickly assembled at the job site. The first thing you should expect is for the compliance officer to present their credentials, which includes both a photograph and a serial number. Always verify the credentials by calling the nearest federal or state OSHA office. The list of Federal OSHA field offices is available at the following link: https://www.osha.gov/oshdir/ca.html and Cal/OSHA field offices at http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/districtoffices.htm. OSHA inspectors may not collect a penalty at the time of the inspection nor promote the sale of a product or service at any time. Anyone who attempts to do so is impersonating a government inspector and the employer should immediately contact the FBI or local law enforcement officials.
Recordkeeping is Important
An OSHA inspection will place an emphasis on OSHA’s posting and record keeping requirements. The compliance officer will want to see the records that you are required to keep. They will check to see that a copy of the totals from the last page of OSHA Form Number 300 are posted as required and that the OSHA workplace poster (OSHA 3165), which explains employees’ safety and health rights, is prominently displayed. Where records of employee exposure to toxic substances and harmful physical agents are required, the compliance officer will examine them for compliance with the record keeping requirements. The compliance officer will also request a copy of your employer’s Hazard Communication Program. OSHA regulations require most employers with ten or more full-time employees to keep a yearly log of all work-related injuries and illnesses. This is the OSHA Log of Injuries and Illnesses, or the OSHA Form 300, and the required recordkeeping includes: maintaining injury/illness records for the past five years; a written hazard communication program; emergency preparedness and evacuation procedures; written lockout/tag out (LO/TO) programs; Respirator programs; exposure and medical records; material safety data sheets (MSDS); and blood borne pathogen training documentation. Have your training documents in order. You can expect the OSHA inspector will want to see them. If you have any non-English speaking employees, make sure you have documentation that they understood your safety training. These documents should only be provided to the inspector when specifically requested by the inspector. During an OSHA inspection never give the inspector any information or documentation they have not specifically requested. Before an OSHA inspection happens you should designate one person who will is familiar with these records and who will provide them to the OSHA inspector.
The Three Phases of Inspection
An OSHA inspection consists of three stages: an opening conference, a facility, workplace or job site walk-through, and a closing conference. Greet the inspector and check their credentials. Confirm the reason for the inspection. Answer the OSHA inspector’s questions truthfully, but if you’re unsure about something, it is fine to respond “Let me check on the information and get back to you.” If applicable, the inspector will provide copies of the complaints that triggered the inspection. The inspector will also outline the scope of the inspection, which may include interviews with employees. Employees have the right to request that interviews to be private or conducted with managers present.
After the opening conference the OSHA inspector will walk through the facility, workplace or job site, taking notes, and photographs. Management should have at least one representative accompany the inspector. OSHA requires that employees have an opportunity to select an employee representative for the inspection. If there is no authorized employee representative, the compliance officer will talk with employees during the OSHA inspection. The management representatives should note and record everything the OSHA inspector notes, and records. All conversations during the OSHA inspection should be documented. If the inspector takes photographs, then the management representative should duplicate these photographs with their own camera. Document everything the OSHA compliance officer inspects, notes, or photographs. The compliance officer may make video recordings; record instrument readings; examine records; collect air samples; measures noise levels; survey existing engineering controls; and monitor employee exposure to toxic fumes, gases, and dusts. The management representative should duplicate everything the compliance officer does or notes. Do not assume anything is unimportant. Document everything that happens during an OSHA inspection. The inspection may cover part or the entire facility, workplace or job site, even if the inspection resulted from a specific complaint, fatality, or accident. An OSHA inspection is not limited to any one area. If the compliance officer finds a violation in open view, they may ask permission to expand the inspection. Following the walk-through, the OSHA officer should conduct a closing conference with key company representatives. The inspector should share information about violations they found and any observed unsafe situations. If possible, correct any deficiencies the inspector notes before he leaves the building. Review the inspection with the team. Correct deficiencies noted by the inspector. Draft a follow up letter to the inspector addressing his concerns. If there is to be a citation, it will be issued within six months of the inspection by the local area director. The employer then must follow the instructions included with the citation, including posting the citation in a prominent workplace location. Employers may elect to contest citations or penalties.
Always Be Prepared
While the likelihood of an OSHA inspection is low for most businesses, being aware of what happens during an OSHA inspection, and preparing for it, will help you have a safer workplace and avoid costly citations and fines.