What to do if OSHA knocks on your door
An overview of the OSHA inspection process
With more than 8 million employers and 130 million workers in its jurisdiction, the odds of your business getting a surprise OSHA inspection are likely pretty low.
That's because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) relies on a team of only about 2,000 inspectors to visit worksites and ensure employers are complying with applicable rules and regulations.
To give you an idea, in 2014 OSHA inspectors conducted 36, 163 federal inspections and 47, 217 State Plan inspections. That's a total of about 83,000 inspections out of the several million workplaces the agency covers.
In order to focus its limited resources on the most hazardous worksites, the agency has established six main inspection priorities to prompt an OSHA investigation:
- Imminent danger situations
- Fatalities and catastrophes
- Complaints registered by employees
- Referrals from other agencies
- Follow-up inspections for worksites previously found to be in violation of OSHA health and safety standards
- Planned or programmed investigations of targeted industries or areas
But even though the odds of any given worksite that doesn't fall into one of these categories being inspected are pretty low, employers should have a plan in place in case OSHA ever does pay them a visit.
Preparing for an OSHA inspection
The majority of inspections are conducted without advanced warning, which means preparing for an inspection is not an overnight process. In reality, the best way to prepare for an OSHA investigation is to limit the likelihood of an investigation occurring. (A "the best offense is a good defense" approach.) That means implementing a proactive safety program designed to identify and prevent on-the-job accidents.
What to do during an OSHA inspection
There are three main components of an OSHA inspection:
- An opening conference
The opening conference is a brief meeting during which the OSHA inspector will explain the purpose of the inspection.
- A worksite “walkaround”
The walkaround is the actual inspection. The OSHA official, escorted by the appropriate member of management, will tour the facility in order to observe the working conditions, identify any violations and make sure the employer is compliant with OSHA posting requirements. The inspector will take photos and jot down notes during the inspection, asking questions about the organization’s processes and practices, and may also ask to interview certain workers.
- A closing conference
Upon the conclusion of the inspection (which may take anywhere from one day to several weeks, depending on the size of the facility), a closing conference will be scheduled. During this meeting, the inspector will disclose any hazards or violations identified during the course of the inspection, as well as any possible citations or fines the organization may face. Citations include the following: an explanation of the violation or hazard, methods the employer can use to address and fix the problem, and the date by which the employer must have implemented the corrective action(s).
If, at the end of the closing conference, the OSHA inspection report identifies any hazards or violations, employers should make correcting the problems quickly a main priority, even if formal citations have not yet been filed.
While the odds of your organization getting a surprise OSHA inspection may be relatively low, workplace safety should still be at the top of every employer’s priority list. Creating a culture of workplace safety standards not only minimizes the risk of on-the-job accidents, but also helps ensures your employees remain happy, healthy and productive.