Help! OSHA’s Coming! What Do I Do?
When the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) comes a’ calling, it’s best to be prepared. You can expect a pretty thorough review of your safety practices. Don’t freak out; get smart and be careful.
Here are 3 steps you can take to ensure a good inspection:
Step #1: Prep Your Workplace in Advance.
Assess your workplace and prepare a plan before the inspection, addressing current hazards and personal protective requirements. You may need more respirators, eyeglasses, gloves or whatever. Think through potential hazards carefully. What hazards might your workers be exposed to? Make sure you have them covered or fixed.
Now is the time also to read through the credentials of the Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) and learn the exact purpose of the inspection. Senior management should certainly be informed and it’s probably a good idea to inform company counsel, too.
Once the workplace is assessed, make sure your employees are well versed in the potential risks posed to their health and the precautions the company has taken to protect them. These are steps you should be taking anyway.
Step #2: Know Your Rights. But Don’t Create Problems.
When you receive notice of the inspection, you have a choice; you can consent or request a warrant. You may be tempted to request the warrant, but you should know that OSHA may be there only to inspect one aspect of the workplace. If you ask for an official warrant, you are opening up the rest of the workplace for investigation.
The compliance officer may also ask for documents. The only ones you must supply without subpoena are your injury and illness records. But unless you have a good reason not to supply other documents, you should consider complying. Simply ask for the requests in writing and limit the materials only to the ones requested. You are within your rights to ask specifically why an apparent violation exists and should not agree or admit to anything about hazardous conditions. But you should not have to become argumentative.
Step #3: Manage the Visit Carefully.
Begin managing the visit before it ever begins by selecting one individual to be point person. The point person should be the one who communicates with the compliance officer beforehand, disseminates information and accompanies him at all times during the visit, taking the same photos and measurements.
The officer may want to question employees. You have to allow that. But if this becomes disruptive to the normal work process, the point person can step in. You can also have an attorney or other management official present.
After the inspection, there will be a closing conference with a compliance manager who will review the visit. Then OSHA has six months to issue citations, after which you have 15 working days to contest them.