Each year OSHA conducts around 50,000 workplace inspections. These investigations are typically triggered by an accident at the workplace, an employee complaint or an OSHA initiated industry specific safety blitz.
While the odds of a workplace being inspected are less than 1 percent, it is vital for business owners to understand how to navigate the four steps of an inspection.
Step 1 Opening Conference
During the opening conference the OSHA inspector will meet with a company’s representative to explain the purpose and reason for the visit. If a company has a union representative they also take part in the investigation.
During this phase of the investigation the employer’s representative needs to inform the inspector if the employer is participating in any OSHA compliance programs or if the company has received any safety compliance exceptions from OSHA.
The representative should also ask the inspector the scope of the investigation and to provide a copy of the standards that will apply to the inspection. This material will help define the focus on an inspection, so the representative can appropriately guide the inspector.
If the inspection is the result of an employee complaint the representative should ask for a copy of the complaint. This copy will typically redact the complainant’s name to preserve anonymity.
Step 2 the Inspection
Once the opening conference is completed the inspector will proceed to the inspection. The inspection typically consist of two parts: a walk around and an inspection of records. The investigator will determine in what part of the business the inspection will begin, where they wish to go and the length of the inspection.
The inspector may also ask to speak to employees and is allowed to do so as long as it does not unduly interfere with their work.
During the inspection the employer representative should provide any information to the inspector they request; however, don’t volunteer information that is not requested. There is no reason to draw light to something that is not part of the inspection.
While conducting the investigation the inspector may take photographs, instrument readings, air samples, spill samples, and other measurements. The company’s representative should take duplicate photos and samples and record the same readings and measurements for later comparison, if practical.
If during the inspection the investigator begins to deviate from the scope of the evaluation, the company representative may point out this deviation and ask the purpose of the expansion. Also if an inspector is hostile, abusive or attempts to exceed the parameters specifically set forth in a warrant, an employer should immediately consult with legal counsel about requesting that the inspection be adjourned pending a meeting with the area director or for other possible legal action before the walkabout continues.
Once the walk around is completed the investigator will examine the company’s records to ensure compliance with OSHA regulations. These include incident records of injuries, illnesses, fatalities, and exposures to any toxic or hazardous substances. The inspector will also examine the company's, hazard communications program, safety data sheets (SDS) and training records.
A company should keep all this material in one place for ease of inspection. Most records need to be kept on file for a minimum of three years, even if an employee no longer works for a company.
Step 3 Closing Conference
Once the inspection is completed the investigator will host a meeting with those who attended the initial conference.
OSHA’s representative during this meeting will discuss "apparent violations" and ways to correct hazards, deadlines, and possible fines. A second closing conference may be held if needed information, such as sampling results, was not initially available.
If the company representative sees something was overlooked regarding these areas of deficiency the company representative should provide it to the inspector.