What to expect during OSHA inspections

Date Posted: 06/20/2022
OSHA Inspection

A big part of OSHA’s enforcement effort involves inspecting workplaces. OSHA does not give advance notice of an inspection, so an inspector could knock on your door at any time. Officially, an inspection consists of three main phases: the opening conference, a facility walkaround, and a closing conference.

In reality, the inspection begins before the opening conference, and before you even know that an OSHA inspector is looking at your facility. The inspector may park nearby and observe, and may even take photos of visible areas. In some cases, particularly at construction sites, violations may be documented before the inspector announces his or her arrival.

The inspection process

The inspector will show credentials and, during an opening conference, explain the reason for the inspection. OSHA may show up for a number of reasons, like focusing on a hazard such as excavations or amputations. Inspectors may also show up in response to a reported fatality or hospitalization, or in response to employee complaints. The reason for the visit affects the scope of the inspection, which might not cover the entire facility.

During the walkaround, the inspector will walk through the facility or jobsite, or at least the parts of interest, looking for potential safety violations. One or more employer representatives will serve as guides. This typically includes a safety professional, maintenance supervisor, and possibly even a company lawyer.

The walkaround can last from 20 minutes to several months, depending on the size of the facility. The inspector will likely interview employees and managers about a variety of topics. Managers should keep in mind that whenever they’re talking to the OSHA inspector, that conversation is essentially an interview about working conditions.

After the walkaround, the inspector will hold a closing conference and may point out apparent violations. However, the official notice of violations and proposed penalties will be mailed later, after the inspector consults with the Area Director. Arguing with the inspector during the closing conference about potential violations won’t be productive and is not advisable.

Once you receive the notice of violations, you could simply accept the citations and pay the proposed fines. Most employers request an informal conference to discuss the situation, hoping to eliminate some items or reduce the proposed fines. Finally, you could file an official notice of intent to contest, which must be sent to OSHA within 15 working days.

There’s a lot more involved in an OSHA inspection, which is why employers should be prepared if an inspector knocks on the door. Knowing your rights and obligations in advance will help the process go more smoothly.

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How Safety Management Suite Can Help

During an inspection, OSHA may ask to review written plans that your company is required to maintain. This means your company must identify which plans are required, create plans containing all required elements, and keep those plans updated. The plan templates in the Safety Management Suite Plans and Policies area can get you started and help you track revisions and updates.

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