The Inside Scoop on the OSHA Inspection Process

OSHA Inspection Process

OSHA inspections are a part of daily life and being ready for them establishes a positive experience.  It would be best if you did not wait to put protocols in place before OSHA comes knocking on your door. Understanding the process and preparing your company for an environmental health and occupational safety inspection can ensure success. The citations may be legitimate, but they may have been avoided if the proper protocols were in place to handle an OSHA inspection.

Being prepared for an OSHA inspection

OSHA can inspect at any time during regular business hours and without advance notice. Therefore, your processes and procedures must be ready to implement should a surprise OSHA inspection occur.

OSHA can visit your site for one of two reasons:

  • Consulting. The inspection is scheduled in advance in non-enforcement mode to uncover issues without penalty, assuming you will correct the problems they encounter.
  • Enforcement is an unplanned visit that can occur for the following reasons:
    • Programmed inspection can happen when you are due for an inspection.
    • Targeted inspection for a specific reason, such as forklift training and use.
    • Employee complaint prompts an inspection when an employee files a grievance.
    • A report of a serious injury causes an inspection to happen to investigate the circumstances of the injury or fatality.

Where can OSHA go in my facility?

OSHA Inspection Process

The OSHA inspector can go anywhere within the inspection scope, but it is not free reign.  Understanding the process and limitations on both sides can facilitate the inspection.

  • Ask why the OSHA compliance officer is there
  • Validate the credentials of the OSHA officer
  • Narrow the audit to the scope of the inspection

The inspector can take photos or video but be sure to request a confidential designation to protect proprietary information. If samples are taken, request a dual sample so you can send the samples to your lab to compare results.

Note: anything the OSHA officer sees is fair game and is commonly referred to as plain view citations.  Therefore, limiting the officer to the areas(s) in question determines the ability to walk through your facility, warehouse, or yard and witness infractions. Walk them around the facility in the most direct manner to define the scope of the audit.

What do I do first when the OSHA representative arrives?

The first thing you want to do is ask for their credentials and make a photocopy for your records. Then, inform your staff to contact you immediately if you are not at the site. You should make every effort to return to the location if possible.

Here is a simple checklist of to-do items before and during the inspection:

  • Develop a “phone tree” of contacts such as the EHS Manager, Corporate EHS Manager, Plant Manager, HR Manager, etc.
  • Handle the inspector(s) personally.
  • If you are not available, the designated backup should personally handle the inspection.
  • Assemble your HRM, PM, EHS Manager, and Corporate EHS (Assembly phone tree contact ahead of time).
  • Escort the inspector to your conference room, not your office. (Good inspectors become adept at reading upside down, and not all information is public.)
  • Be respectful and professional, but do not make idle “chit-chat.” Less is more, and do not volunteer any information.
  • Remember, nothing is “off the record,” ever!

It is okay to ask them why they are there and document what they tell you. You can ask for copies of the complaint, including an employee complaint but never ask for the employee’s name.

What are the common OSHA inspection types?

OSHA Inspection Process

There are three basic categories of inspections.

  • Programmed/Routine Inspections. If it is a routine programmed inspection, ask them the basis for the inspection (e.g., forklifts, etc.) and what they want to see related to that basis. Only show them what they want to see and do not provide any additional documentation. Write down everything they say word for word. Most importantly- ONLY SHOW THEM WHAT THEY ASK FOR!
  • Employee Complaint. If it is a complaint, ask for a copy of the complaint. If the inspector does not give you a copy of the Complaint, write down the basis of the Complaint precisely as they state it. Do not ask to identify the complaining employee. By law, complaints to OSHA are confidential, and efforts to discover the identity of the complaining Employee can lead to discrimination claims. Deal only with the complaint subject matter.

If they ask to see information unrelated to the complaint, don’t be afraid to push back, but be courteous and professional. Ask them why they want additional information and how it relates to the complaint.

  • Hospitalization injury or fatality. If the inspection is related to an injury or accident, the questioning should be limited to the specific incident and the employee and witnesses involved. Be ready to show the employee’s training records and specific EHS program elements. They will also want to interview the injured Employee and witnesses if they are at work.  If not at work, they will go to their home or hospital or conduct a telephone interview.

What if the OSHA inspector wants to see the plant?

Ask what they want to see. If they say a specific area, take them directly to that area using a route that does not take them through the middle of the plant.  They can issue citations for any hazard in “plain view,” as discussed earlier.

Unless it is a wall-to-wall inspection, OSHA is not entitled to take a plant tour. If requested, politely advise them that your policy does not allow general plant tours, but you would be happy to show them the areas necessary for the inspection.

Do I have rights under an OSHA inspection?

Yes, employees, employers, and OSHA all have rights during an inspection.

Non-management Employee rights

  • right to a private one-on-one interview with the inspector.
  • right to refuse an interview
  • right to have another person present
  • right to end the interview at any time
  • no duty to sign a statement or be tape-recorded or photographed
  • cannot lie to the inspector

 Employer rights:

  • right to limit inspection to complaints or accidents
  • right to accompany the inspector
  • right to attend non-private employee interviews
  • right to attend management interviews
  • no duty to produce documents not required by law
  • right to end inspection if disruptive
  • right to require a search warrant (should confer with senior management and legal counsel on the decision)

OSHA rights

  • to conduct an inspection, either with consent or a search warrant
  • right to use a video camera and take photographs
  • cannot record voice without notice and consent
  • right to inspect documents required by law
  • right to truthful responses

Preparation, practice, and readiness are the keys to understanding the OSHA inspection process.

As we have discussed, understanding the process of an OSHA inspection and being prepared with the proper documentation and procedures can ensure a successful OSHA inspection.

Catamount Consulting provides mining, construction, and general industry businesses with specialized safety services, consultation, and compliance strategies. We have the highest regard for quality and employee safety and can facilitate creating a safety culture in your organization. Contact us to learn more about preparing for and handling an OSHA Inspection.

Click here to view the webinar and learn more about handling an OSHA inspection.

Special thanks to our presenter, Joe Keenan, MBA, CSP from Catamount Consulting.