What can I do to deal with unexpected OSHA inspections?

Q:

What can I do to deal with unexpected OSHA inspections?

A:

The first thing you need to know about unexpected OSHA inspections is that you have the right to deny the inspector access at the time of the initial visit if you so choose.

A great time to exercise this option would be when either your management representative or the only person familiar with all the details of your safety program, including policies and procedures, happens to be unavailable.

You can request that the inspector obtain an inspection warrant and return at a later time.

This means that an inspector will need an administrative warrant (not a criminal one) to enter your facility. Requesting such a warrant is not supposed to be considered adversarial and it may retain some rights that could be lost by granting a voluntary inspection. Requiring a warrant allows you to have the necessary people available for the inspection that will be conducted some time during the following 30 days.

Some people feel that denying access to the inspector when he or she arrives unannounced will antagonize OSHA and may result in harsher treatment when the inspection does occur. The request for a warrant before entry is not supposed to influence the outcome of the inspection. Unfortunately, inspectors are only human and this may not always be the case. Courteous treatment when you ask an inspector to provide a warrant and the disposition of the inspector could influence the outcome of the inspection.

The Inspector Will Want to Do More than Just Look at Your Documentation

What the inspector wants to accomplish depends partly on the type of inspection. There are two types of visits:

  1. Non-Programmed Visit
    • Inspection will be restricted to the incident or complaint that triggered the inspection
      • Because this type of visit will restrict the inspection’s purview, you should provide only the specifically requested documentation, take the least-revealing route to the requested area, and volunteer no ancillary information. Once the inspector has been granted access to the site, he or she is free to investigate anything that is seen or discussed during the inspection
  2. Programmed Visit
    • Inspection conveys the right to go virtually anywhere and see basically everything, but does not grant permission to wander unaccompanied
    • Includes the right to interview employees without management present. Make sure employees are prepared for the following:
      • Answer all questions truthfully but to volunteer no unnecessary information
      • Make no speculations, only provide the facts
      • While OSHA inspector may request to interview employees alone, employee may request someone else (a manager, lawyer, or supervisor) be present
      • Employees should be aware that interview should not exceed 10 minutes

Be Prepared for an Audit

There are many articles written about the different aspects of an OSHA inspection and what will be required. If you are looking for a site with some specific resources, OSHA itself provides documents and presentations on their website that discuss what they will be looking for during an inspection.

Additionally, our Webinar on May 16th Managing Unexpected OHSA Visits Part 1: what to do before OSHA arrives,” is the first of a three part webinar series on handling OSHA Inspections. Tune in for the next few webinars to learn what to do before, during, and after OSHA Inspections. A recording of the webinar and the slide deck will be made available after the presentation.

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Written by Gary Blake
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Gary Blake is the Vice President of Industrial Development at Safety Plus, Inc. He holds a degree in Industrial Technology for the University of Wisconsin and has worked in Safety and Logistics with Industrial, Maritime, and Construction companies throughout the country. In 2001 Gary began working with Safety Plus, Inc providing management services and assisting Owner Clients on preparing for regulatory audits with primary focus on OSHA-related issues. Over the past decade his focus has been on developing SPI’s Industrial Services Division with Safety Professional and Rescue Teams providing specialized services around the country. Gary has certifications in Safety/IH/Quality Control and is involved in multiple industry-related professional organizations. He is a father of two and currently resides in Mobile, AL with his wife Sue.

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