Here Comes OSHA

Greg Shinsky
Safety Consultant

Every business owner and risk manager should be prepared for a visit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA.) An OSHA audit, or inspection, can be made tolerable and even beneficial with proper planning. Designed to eliminate hazards from the workplace, OSHA protects employers as much as it does workers, ultimately saving companies the expense caused by work-related injuries.

Who Can Be Inspected:

  • All private sector employers and their employees in the United States and its territories and jurisdictions
  • Does Not Cover: self-employed; farming families; mine workers; certain transportation workers; atomic energy workers; public employees

Inspection Priorities:

  • Imminent Danger – hazards and conditions where there is reasonable certainty that danger exists that will cause death or serious harm
  • Catastrophes and Fatal Accidents – investigations are required of fatalities and accidents resulting in a death or hospitalization of three or more employees
  • Complaints – allegations of hazards or violations by employees
  • Referrals – reports of hazardous conditions from the public, media, or federal, state and local agencies
  • Programmed or Planned Inspections – these inspections are aimed at specific high hazard industries, workplaces, occupations, health substances or other industries identified by OSHA. Companies on the “hit list” which identifies establishments with above average lost workday injury rates as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are also targeted
  • Follow-up Inspections – verification if the employer has corrected previously cited violations
  • Random – completed on any private sector employer at the discretion of OSHA

The majority of inspections come from employee complaints and referrals.

What to Expect:

Arrival – The compliance officer will arrive at your facility during normal business hours unless you have been contacted prior to the visit. The inspector will show his/hers credentials issued by the U.S. Department of Labor which authorizes the inspection. You do have the right to ask for a warrant.

Preliminary Conference – The compliance officer will discuss the nature of the visit, outline expectations, and address any questions. The officer will most likely review documentation related to the safety and health program. Some examples are: OSHA logs for the past three years, surveys and inspections, management and supervisor accountability, hazard analysis, preventative maintenance records, safety committee minutes, safety policies, manuals and procedures, training records and internal safety audits.   

Site Tour – The compliance officer will then inspect your workplace. The agenda for the inspection and its length is at the discretion of the officer, but they try to minimize interruption in the workplace. The business owner, risk manager and other key personnel should plan to accompany the officer throughout the facility. Employees and supervisors may be interviewed and asked to describe work procedures, or demonstrate the availability and proper use of personal protective equipment. During the walk-through the officer is likely to observe machine guarding, lockout/tagout, walking and working surfaces, fall exposure, confined space, hazardous material storage and handling, electrical equipment and wiring, power tools and welding equipment. If a hazard is observed by the officer, correct it immediately if possible to show your cooperation.

Closing Conference -  Before leaving the workplace, the compliance officer will hold a closing conference to discuss preliminary findings, violations and time-frames for correction. The employer is allowed to ask questions and solicit suggestions for any deficiencies noted.

Any violations found during the inspection may result in citations and financial penalties issued by the OSHA area director. Violations and penalties are: other than serious (up to $1,000); serious (up to $7,000); willful (up to $70,000); repeated (up to $70,000 per violation in past three years); failure to abate (up to $7,000 per day the violation continues.)  For companies dealing in good faith, OSHA might lessen the penalty if it is contested.

Preparing For An Inspection:

OSHA audits can be stressful and the citation penalties severe. But if you've developed good safety programs and are prepared for this inspection, costly partialities and downtime can be avoided. Start by ensuring your staff has a working knowledge of OSHA standards and regulations specific to your industry. Guard against accidents and OSHA citations by creating a self-inspection procedure. If you need help developing an OSHA mock-inspection checklist or learning more about risk control and your specific exposure to citations and penalties, contact us today.