OSHA Is Here, Now What?

Facility managers shouldn’t wait until they are at the door, as pre-planning for an OSHA inspection is a must. The following procedures can be used to prepare and also followed during an OSHA inspection.

OSHA conducts tens of thousands of inspections each and every year. Facility managers shouldn’t wait until they are at the door, as pre-planning for an OSHA inspection is a must. The facility managers should work with other key managers and supervisors at the workplace to ensure everyone knows their role.  The following procedures can be used to prepare and also followed during an OSHA inspection.

Arrival Of The OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO)

CSHO’s have protocol to follow when conducting an inspection. This includes checking in and attaining permission to conduct the inspection. It is best to make sure the receptionist knows who to contact when OSHA arrives. It is best to get a supervisor or manager present as soon as practical to greet the CSHO. The manger should do the following:

  1. Verify the CSHO's credentials — look at ID and business card. There have been rare cases of people impersonating a CSHO. All CSHO’s will have a government issued ID and business cards.
  2. Determine why the CSHO wants to inspect your workplace, i.e. complaint, accident, programmed, imminent danger, follow-up. 
  3. Tell the CSHO that it is your company policy to contact your management prior to starting the inspection. Have the CSHO wait while you are making phone calls. At this point, you have not given the CSHO permission to inspect your workplace, so they should wait until the proper managers arrive. It is not recommended to deny the CSHO permission to conduct the inspection. Although it is your company’s right, it can have negative impacts on the process. Discussing this ahead of time with all decision makers and assigning what manager will be giving the permission in the preplanning stage is a must.

Opening Conference

Once proper managers are present and permission to inspect has been granted, the CSHO will conduct an opening conference. This is typically a quick conference to discuss the reason for the inspection, scope, rights and responsibilities. Here are some tips for the opening conference:

  • Request an opening conference if the CSHO does not call for one.
  • Take detailed notes of everything discussed. If you need time to take notes, politely request that from the CSHO.
  • Keep all publications and documents given to you by the CSHO.
  • If more than one CSHO is going to inspect, find out if they plan to make the inspection in one group or split into two or more groups to make the inspection. If they want to divide into two or more groups, tell the CSHO you require an employer representative with each group.
  • Be cooperative with the CSHO. At all times prior to, during and after the inspection act in a professional businesslike manner. Never enter into personal arguments.
  • Communicate with the CSHO that you would prefer him/her to advise the company of all suspected violations and the standard involved. 

Records Review

It is common for the CSHO to review documents during the inspection. This often occurs during or right after the opening conference. If a document review is requested, it is suggested to only allow the CHSO to review your company Safety and Health Program at the time of the inspection. Other records should be sent to the CSHO after upper management approves. 

Walk Around Inspection

Once the CSHO completes the opening conference and records review, they will start the walk around portion of the inspection. Keep these steps in mind during the walk around:

  • Have a company representative accompany the CSHO at all times. Never leave them to have free and unlimited access to your workplace.
  • Control the inspection: Treat the CSHO as you would a guest in your house; they are there with permission and will be expected to follow all company policies and will be required to conduct the inspection in such a manner that it does not disrupt the scheduled work. 
  • If the CSHO is asking questions about issues related to work that is being performed by a subcontractor, refer those questions to the Subcontractor’s Competent Person.
  • Take detailed notes of everything seen, discussed and done by the CSHO.
  • Take photographs of everything the CSHO photographs. If the equipment, work area, etc., can be photographed from a more favorable position (different angle, greater distance, etc.) photograph it from the different position.
  • Do not allow any employee to perform demonstrations for the CSHO. Allow the Compliance Officer to see the work as it is normally being done only.
  • Do not volunteer any information. The CSHO is trained to obtain admissions from companies.  Be careful answering questions. When in doubt, ask them to restate the question. Do not admit to a violation. State the facts only, not your opinion. Do not lie to the CSHO at any time.
  • Make sure you fully understand everything the CSHO does or comments on. If you do not understand everything they say and do, ask questions. Insist on having time to record all facts, even if the inspection is slowed down.

Rules For Being Interviewed

During the course of the inspection, the CSHO may ask you some questions. Although this is not an official interview, please treat it as such. The CHSO may also conduct an official interview with you.  When either of these occur, these rules should be followed:

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Make sure you understand the question
  3. Just answer the question, nothing else
  4. Answer based on your knowledge only… don’t guess or speculate

OSHA has the right to interview employees privately. When this occurs, do not obstruct. The employee should also follow the same rules for being interviewed. Rule No. 1 is the most important, tell the truth.  Never lie to a federal employee conducting an investigation.

Closing Conference

Upon conclusion of the inspection a closing conference will be held. Typically, this occurs on the same day of the inspection, however if the CSHO still needs to gather information, they may delay the closing conference. Ensure all company representatives are present and follow these steps: 

  • Take notes of everything discussed and record what documents were distributed.
  • Make sure that no questions you have concerning the inspection go unanswered.
  • Don't give any estimates of abatement time needed to correct any alleged violations.

OSHA Left, Now What?

The CSHO will go back to their office and complete the citation if they are issuing a citation. This can take a couple days to a few months. It depends on the workload the CSHO has on their plate. They will review the details of the case with their supervisor as well to make sure they are issuing citations that are based on the facts. These citations will then come in the mail to your office. The deadline to issue citations is six months after the inspection. They have quite a while to get these to you, but when you receive them, do not delay. Employers only have 15 working days to contest, attend an Informal Conference or just pay the fine. Don’t miss that deadline as you lose all your rights.

Dan Johnson, CSP is the President of SFI Compliance, Inc and Safety Consultant with 23-plus years of experience working with clients and OSHA during and after inspections. He has assisted over 100 companies with OSHA citations. Johnson is also a safety training course author and subject matter expert for RedVector, a Vector Solutions brand. 

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