Are you worried about the possibility of actually showing up in your lobby for a surprise inspection? And you’re not sure exactly what to do or how to prepare for that possibility? That sounds like you don’t feel bad because you’re definitely not alone, and you’ve come to the right place because I put together this series of videos called How to Pass Your OSHA Inspection. And in this edition of the series, I’m going to talk about putting together your OSHA inspection playbook.
There are three critical key steps that you need to start working on now in order to prepare for that possibility and pass your inspection. Before getting into that, if you haven’t already, subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the notification button, so you’re notified every time that we upload new content.
My Youtube channel talks about the most important and critical environmental health and safety compliance issues and regulations that impact small manufacturing and industrial companies.
Hello, my name is Russell Carr, founder and President of Berg Compliance Solutions. I’ve helped many small manufacturing companies navigate the entire OSHA enforcement process from the first inspection through fixing violations and even fighting back and defending against citations and fines. Read on. I’m going to share with you the most important things that I’ve learned with that process. Over the next few articles, we’ll help you build your OSHA inspection playbook.
How to prepare for an OSHA inspection.This is going to be a very detailed process. Let me introduce you to the four major steps we’re going to talk about today and what you want to be working on.
- Begin inspecting your facility to identify and correct physical health and safety hazards.
- Confirm the status of your safety program and make sure it’s complete, up to date, and has all the general industry OSHA standards.
- Consolidate all your safety documents and records in one location so that if you get inspected and they start asking for these things, they’re available and you can hand them over immediately.
- Develop and document a formal plan for managing the inspection process.
Let’s look at each one of these in detail. So again, if you’re not doing this already, you want to begin conducting routine facility inspections to identify and correct all the physical health and safety hazards out there on your shop floor.
Keep in mind that the majority of OSHA violations have to do with these physical health and safety hazards. And that’s because these are the hazards and the issues that pose the most imminent risk to employees. Also, inspectors are very good at identifying them, and inciting them. So it’s really important to be in the process of identifying these hazards and fixing these hazards.
Common physical hazards that you see at manufacturing or industrial facilities
Machine guarding issues are very common. So if you have any exposed pinch points on any of your equipment, you’ve got to guard those pieces of equipment. Even if it’s a new piece of equipment, a lot of companies make the mistake of believing that if it’s new equipment, then it must already be guarded correctly. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in a lot of instances. You’ve got to inspect all of your equipment and guard all those pinch points and closure points.
Electrical hazards are also very common. You want to be looking for daisy chaining problems. You want to look for damaged electrical cords. You can’t be, for example, powering a permanent piece of equipment with an extension cord. You have to hardwire that. One more, you have to keep a three-foot circle around the front of the electrical panels. Blocked exits and panels, real common violations. It’s very common for a company to stack up products or raw materials in front of an emergency exit. You can’t do that. That’s a serious violation.
Make sure that your employees are wearing safety glasses, wearing gloves, and whatever you specified that they have to wear, you got to make sure that they’re wearing it and provide that PPEs.
Common housekeeping issues where the floors are just not kept clean could produce slips, trips, and falls. You also want a spot check for high-noise areas. If you’ve never done that, get a noise meter or use an app on your phone. Any places that have more than five decibels are suspect areas. You might want to get those checked for a full eight-hour time and use a weighted average to see if you have any noise areas that might trigger the need for engineering controls or even engineering conservation programs. These are some common examples, but they’re many more.
Remember, it’s going to take time for you and your team to identify the biggest hazards and fix them. You’re not going to find them in one inspection. You have to do routine inspections. And even after you’ve identified the big infractions, they have a nasty way of popping up over and over again. So inspecting becomes a never-ending process that you have to stay on top of. It’s that important.
Common OSHA General Industry “standards” applicable to manufacturers
You want to make sure that your program includes all the applicable OSHA and general industry 1910 standards. You want to ensure that your company is managing all these individual OSHA standards and be able to back that up with records. You want to consolidate all your safety documents and records, whether they’re hard copies or electronic, in one place for easy access.
Let’s talk about the common OSHA general industry standards that apply to most manufacturing companies.
- Hazard Communication – The number one issue is OSHA’s hazardous chemicals and hazardous substances standard. Every manufacturing company that is going to have hazardous chemicals has to build a Hazard Communication program, or HAZCOM for short.
- Lockout/Tagout – Every manufacturing in an industrial company is going to have equipment and machinery with multiple energy sources and needs to have a Lockout/Tagout Emergency action plan in place.
- Emergency Action Plan – If you have an emergency, you have to have a plan to deal with it. You’ve got to train your employees on chemical spills, fires, and weather events. You’ve got to have an emergency action plan put together.
- Powered Industrial Trucks
- Confined spaces – You have to assess your facility to see if you have any confined spaces. If so, you’ve got to have a program to deal with that.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Hearing conservation – If you have high noise areas, as I mentioned before, if you can’t engineer out those high noises, then you have to implement a hearing conservation program
- Respiratory Protection – Similar to if you have any hazardous chemicals or substances that you expose your employees to, like silica, lead, or any of the other heavy metals solvents, there are all kinds of hazardous materials out there.
These are some of the most common ones that apply to manufacturing companies, but they’re more.
Let’s go ahead and make sure that your company is actually managing all of the standards that we just talked about. For example, let’s use the Lockout/Tagout requirement.
First, you have to have a written program customized to your company’s specific requirements that meet the standard. It can’t just be some generic thing that you downloaded off the Internet.
Then you have to have employee training. For Lockout/Tagout, there are two types of training that you have to have. Authorized training for the people who actually execute to Lockout/Tagout. Procedures and effective training are required for everybody else so that they know what a Lockout/Tagout means. Then you have to have an inventory or a list of all the equipment in your facility with multiple energy sources.
Once you put that together, you have to develop equipment-specific Lockout/Tagout procedures for every one of those pieces of equipment. You can’t just have one generic procedure. You have to have one for each piece of equipment that’s involved under the standard. Then you have to do what’s called an annual Lockout/Tagout audit or inspection, as the standard calls it, where you confirm that your authorized employees are actually following your Lockout/Tagout procedures.
This is a very common OSHA violation because a lot of companies don’t even know about the requirement. These are what we call aspects. These are things within the standard that you actually have to do. You can’t just have a written program and meet the requirements. You actually have to do these things and manage these things. And as I mentioned before, you’ve got to consolidate all your safety documents and records into one place.
If you get inspected, they’re going to ask about your written programs. They’re going to want the employee training records, the safety data sheets, etc. They’re going to want to confirm that all your employees have direct access to those sheets and that you have employee training records for all the different standards that we talked about. You have to have those ready.
All certifications require a check-in sheet, a sign-off sheet that names the standard that was trained, the date, and all the employee attendees’ signatures or printed names and signatures. That’s all you need to have, but you’ve got to have those ready to prove that you actually train your employees on all the standards.
OSHA 300 Log
If you have eleven or more employees in any given calendar year, at any point during that year, you have to finish your complete OSHA 300 logs at the end of the year. They’re going to ask for five years of records. So if you don’t have that in place and you had more than eleven employees, you’ve got to go back and see if you had new recordable injuries. If so, you’ve got to make note of those to calculate your TRIR and your DART scores and finish your 300 logs.
Hearing conservation or respiratory protection programs
If you have the hearing conservation or respiratory protection programs that I referred to before, there are some critical records that you have to be able to present and consolidate and show to that inspector if they ask for them.
Your health exposure test results. Earlier, I referred to permissible exposure limits. So if you have high noise, you’ve got to do an eight-hour test. If you have exposure to hazardous chemicals You have to send that off to a lab and have those test results.
If you have exposure to any hazardous chemicals or substances and if they have PEL chemicals and there are substances, you have to test for respiratory issues, send it off to a lab and have proof of those test results. These are annual tests for your employees. So do an initial audiogram, an initial respiratory evaluation, then you have to do annual tests on your employees to make sure that their performance and their exclosures and their problems aren’t getting worse.
Finally, we want to talk about developing a formal plan for me to manage inspections.
Let me explain what this looks like. And the first thing to understand here is that many companies fall under the trap of treating the inspection process casually, which often results in more fines and penalties. It’s going to end up costing you a lot more money.
That’s why it’s so important to develop that formal plan. Let’s talk about what that plan is going to look like, and what you need to include in that plan.
- You want to develop a written procedure.
- You want to assign a manager or managers. Ideally, it’s your safety manager who manages the inspection. If you don’t have a full-time safety manager, then you want to assign the manager who is most familiar with your health and safety plan and documents.
- You want to train them using that written procedure so they already know what’s coming, what to expect, and how to manage that inspection.
- You want to confirm quick access to your safety documents and records.
- You have to have a strong safety program
- You want to have management commitment from the top down. Commitment from the senior leadership of the company to a safety program is important. You need to develop a policy and have it signed and put it up prominently.
Employers have rights during the enforcement action
It’s important to understand and manage those rights. Here are some of the employer rights examples that you have during an action.
You can request a delay to wait for a safety consultant or your safety manager or the management member who is assigned to help manage the inspection. If they’re not onsite, you can request some time before they start the inspection. Typically, they’ll wait thirty to forty-five minutes. If that person doesn’t get there, they’re going to start anyway, but you can request a delay for that.
You just only you only have to provide what they’re asking for, nothing more. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you can request additional time to gather information.
It’s okay to do that. One thing that’s really important to understand is that you are not required to hand over past inspection reports, whether that’s an internal inspection report, an external one done by your insurance company, a safety consultant, or whoever. You don’t have to hand those over. And the reason that’s so important is if they get access to these past inspection reports and they identify hazards that you actually haven’t fixed yet, that puts you at risk for willful violations that can run up to a $145k dollars. So it’s really important to understand you do not have to hand over past inspection reports.
You can also exercise some level of control over the inspector’s actions and access by attempting to negotiate it before the start of the inspection. If it’s a focused inspection of a hazard at the back of the facility, that would be a very unique circumstance. But if it is, you don’t want to walk the inspector through your entire facility. You can walk them outdoors to that back door and then directly to that hazard. You want to do that because you don’t want the inspector to necessarily put his eyeballs everywhere else in your facility where he might find more violations and expand the inspection, resulting in more citations. They might push back, but you have the right to at least try to do that.
Finally, a lot of companies ask and want to know if they can refuse access for the inspection. You can temporarily refuse access to your company But, generally, this is not a good idea. Here’s why. If they’re there, they’re there for a reason. And if you tried to deny them access, they’ll go away, but come back more determined than ever, believing that they’re you’re trying to hide something from them. They might show up with even more inspectors. They might expand the inspection to a comprehensive one. It’s not a good idea to do that.
You should give them access and go ahead and take the medicine. The only exception to that is if you know there’s something going on that’s very unsafe in your facility that can be corrected very quickly. If you know what’s going on, you might want to consider, you know, refusing them access, but that would be a rare circumstance. Typically, it’s just not a good idea to do that.
The OSHA inspector, of course, has rights too.
- They can request information on all health and safety-related matters for your company.
- They can ask for all the training records, all the written programs,
- They can request everything other than those past inspection reports that I talked about before, which is so important to remember.
- They can conduct confidential employee interviews with your staff members, and your managers that you can’t be a part of. So just be prepared for that possibility. They can and will conduct these confidential interviews to see if the employees are getting trained to see if they know what a safety data sheet is, to see if they know what a Lockout/Tagout procedure is, etc.
- They can access your entire facility. I said before you can try to negotiate access, but at the end of the day, they can access your entire facility.
- They must cite all identified violations. If they see something, they have to cite it. They can’t throw something out the window just on a whim or because you ask them to. If they see it, they’re going to cite it, and they have to cite it. Keep in mind they have up to six months to evaluate the violations and issue computations and fines.
That covers how to prepare for an OSHA inspection. If you have any questions, book a call. We’d be happy to chat.
Let me begin to wrap up by asking you a very simple but also very important question. And that’s this:
Are you in your company really ready if OSHA shows up tomorrow in your lobby for a surprise inspection?
The fact is, if you’re like most small manufacturing and industrial companies, the answer is probably no. And if that sounds like you don’t feel bad again, you’re not alone. But the fact is if that’s the case, you’re currently at major risk. OSHA goes across the country every single day and hits small companies just like yours and issues all kinds of citations, fines, and penalties that often run into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Ask yourself, could you really afford that? So having said that I also want to want to make the point that the best preparation and the best way to pass an inspection is to know and have the confidence you have a fully functioning OSHA compliance health and safety program.I know that’s easier said than done. We’d like to make a very special free offer to you to help you get on track if you don’t have a safety program right now. I want to offer you free enrollment into our Free OSHA Crash Course for Small Manufacturers.
This mini-course gives you the training, the knowledge, and the resources to begin building a customized safety program and get prepared for that inspector.
What’s in the program
In this free training, I’m going to walk you step by step through the process of determining which OSHA compliance requirements apply to your company and how to build and manage that program for the long term. Another really important thing to understand about this crash course is that it was built for non-experts. Most of the people, most of the companies that come to us, they don’t know anything about safety.
So I built that program with that in mind. So even if you know nothing about safety, you’ll really benefit from it. The other thing that you’re going to get is an OSHA compliance check sheet. After you watch the course, you can use this as a self-assessment and gap-assessment tool to see which one of these OSHA laws applies to your company and figure out if you have it in place or not. If you don’t, this document will also function as sort of a road map forward to get your company onto the road towards compliance.