What to Expect and How to Prepare
OSHA Inspection: What to Expect and How to Prepare
Have you ever been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)?
OSHA Inspectors (also called Compliance Safety and Health Officers -CSHO) are well-trained and experienced industrial hygienists and safety professionals.
Their goal is to assure compliance with OSHA requirements and help employers reduce on-the-job hazards, and prevent injuries, illnesses, and deaths in the workplace.
This blog post will discuss what triggers an OSHA inspection, what to expect during an OSHA inspection, and what types of items an employer needs to have prepared in the event of an OSHA inspection.
OSHA Inspection Triggers
OSHA has jurisdiction over approximately 7 million worksites. The agency focuses its inspection resources on the most hazardous workplaces in the following order of priority:
- Imminent danger situations—hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm receive top priority. Compliance officers will ask employers to correct these hazards immediately or remove endangered employees
- Severe injuries and illnesses— After an employer reports a fatality to OSHA (employers must report deaths within 8 hours) or inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, or losses of an eye (employers must report within 8 hours), OSHA may show up to investigate the report
- Worker Complaints—allegations of hazards or violations also receive a high priority. Employees may request to be anonymous when they file complaints
- OSHA may receive referrals of hazards from other federal, state, or local agencies, individuals, organizations, or the media. Referrals may lead to an inspection
- Targeted inspections—inspections aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses also receive priority
The agency also conducts follow-up inspections by checking for the mitigation of violations cited during previous inspections in certain circumstances
On-site Inspection Process
Preparation – Before OSHA shows up on-site, they will prepare by researching the worksite’s history, reviewing the operations and processes, and what standards apply. They may also gather testing instruments to measure potential hazards, such as a noise dosimeter.
Opening Conference – When they arrive, CHSOs will first show their credentials, and then there will be an opening conference. The compliance officer will explain why OSHA selected the workplace for an inspection and describe the scope of the inspection, walkaround procedures, employee representation, and employee interviews.
The employer then selects a representative to accompany the compliance officer during the inspection. Keep in mind that the CHSO will speak privately with employees during the inspection (without the company representative).
Walkaround – Next, the inspection will begin. The CHSO and the employer representative will walk through different areas of the facility depending on the scope of the inspection, looking for hazards that could lead to injury or illness.
During the walkaround, compliance officers may point out violations that can be corrected immediately. While the law requires that these hazards must still be cited, prompt correction is a sign of good faith on the part of the employer.
Compliance officers try to minimize work interruptions during the inspection and will keep confidential any trade secrets observed. CHSOs will also ask to check the documentation of specific items (discussed next). After the walkaround inspection, there will be a closing conference to discuss the findings.
Closing Conference – During the closing conference, OSHA reviews the findings. The compliance officer discusses possible courses of action an employer may take following an inspection, including an informal conference with OSHA or contesting citations and proposed penalties.
The compliance officer also discusses consultation services and employee rights. When an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, OSHA may issue citations and fines. OSHA must issue a citation and proposed penalty within six months of the violation’s occurrence.
Citations will describe OSHA requirements that were allegedly violated, list any proposed penalties, and give a deadline for correcting the alleged hazards.
Violation Categories – Violations are categorized as willful, serious, other-than-serious, failure to abate, and repeated. Violations range from approximately $13,654 per violation (serious, other-than-serious, or posting requirements) to $136,532 (willful or repeated violations) after January 2021.
In settling a penalty, OSHA has a policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith. For serious violations, OSHA may also reduce the proposed penalty based on the alleged violation’s gravity. However, no good faith adjustment will be made for alleged willful violations.
Appealing Violations – If OSHA issues a citation, they also offer the employer an opportunity for an informal conference with the OSHA Area Director to discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates, or any other information pertinent to the inspection.
The agency and the employer may work out a settlement agreement to resolve the matter and eliminate the hazard. OSHA’s primary goal is correcting hazards and maintaining compliance rather than issuing citations or collecting penalties.
Alternatively, employers have 15 working days after receipt of citations and proposed penalties to formally contest the alleged violations and/ or penalties by sending a written notice to the Area Director.
OSHA forwards the contest to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) for independent review. Otherwise, citations, penalties, and abatement dates not challenged by the employer or settled become a final order by the Review Commission.
Items to Prepare to show OSHA
As well as the walkaround, OSHA will want to review certain records and documents for compliance. These records and documents must be available during the OSHA inspection. Below is a list of items that the employer needs to prepare to show to the inspector:
- The Official OSHA Poster
- OSHA 300 logs
- Employee Training Records
- Written Programs applicable to the site including but not limited to:
- Hazard Communication Program including Safety Data Sheet records
- Confined Space Program
- Lockout/Tagout Program
- Respiratory Protection Program
- Fall Protection Program
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