When an OSHA inspector knocks on the door, you might feel like a driver who just got pulled over by the police. However, OSHA inspectors often view their job as similar to a safety professional’s job, with the objectives of protecting employees and ensuring compliance. Although an inspection might feel confrontational, knowing what you should (and should not) do can help make the process go more smoothly.
OSHA inspectors will explain why they showed up and what they’d like to see. Your facility might have been selected for a programmed inspection, or for any number of reasons. OSHA might even be responding to a complaint, but don’t ask if an employee complained. OSHA will not tell you, and you cannot do anything to that person under whistleblower protection laws. Asking who complained might be viewed as a sign that you intend to identify the person.
The inspector will ask to review various documents, and you must provide what they request within four hours. Some inspectors may allow that time limit to lapse without asking a second time. Do not offer documentation that was not specifically requested, but do keep a record of everything you’ve handed over.
If OSHA arrived to check a specific area, you can take the long way around, such as going across a parking lot and entering a building using a door near the area of interest. If you walk the full length of your facility, OSHA will investigate any obvious hazards along the way.
If OSHA notes any apparent violations, correct them immediately, but do not admit to violations, and avoid making comments like “that happens all the time.”
The inspector will ask many questions. Offer concise answers, but do not volunteer additional information unless you’re certain it will help. Some inspectors may allow period of silence, hoping you’ll volunteer information during an awkward pause. Don’t feel the need to fill in silences. Remember that a seemingly casual conversation is actually an interview that becomes part of the official inspection record.
After the walkaround, the inspector will hold a closing conference to go over the conditions observed, but the Area Director will mail the actual citations later. Arguing over possible violations during the closing conference could create frustration that results in saying something unintended.
After getting the notice of violations, request an informal conference. You may be able to get some items removed or reduced. Keep in mind, however, that you have only 15 business days from the date you received the citations to file a notice of intent to contest. It may be prudent to prepare your notice of intent to contest, ready to drop in the mail, in case OSHA doesn’t respond to your informal conference requests in a timely manner.
One of the best ways to avoid OSHA citations is to find and fix potential violations before OSHA arrives. Identifying hazards may require regular inspections and audits. The Audits feature in the J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE provides numerous ready-to-use checklists with questions on dozens of topics. The results can help you identify potential hazards or compliance issues and address them before OSHA comes knocking.