Learn how to manage and pass an OSHA inspection
Are you worried about the possibility of OSHA showing up in your lobby for a surprise inspection to evaluate your OSHA compliance program? And you’re not quite sure what to do about that or how to prepare for that possibility? You’re definitely not alone. The problem is a lot of companies treat the inspection process too casually and that can end up costing you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In this article, I will address the key steps that you need to start working on now in order to be prepared for the possibility of getting inspected and how to manage that inspection process.
How to deal with the inspector
The Inspector is not there to help
I want to emphasize, if this is not obvious already, the inspector is not there to help. Believe me when I tell you that they will use everything they see and everything they hear against you. They are there for one reason only, and that is to identify and cite health and safety violations and pile up massive fines.
Inspectors are professional, polite and smooth. You can easily get lulled into the sense that they’re there to help you, that you can ask them questions and be honest with them They are not there to consult with you and they will use everything that they see and hear against you.
When they show up, make sure to request their credentials and get their business card. You will need that business card later. It’s rare that you would get an impersonator inspection, but I have read about that happening.
Always be Professional
Always be professional, polite, and patient with the inspector. They are people too. If you are rude, standoffish or argumentative, they are going to push back. It’s not going to work to your advantage.
Keep your answers short and to the point
They are going to ask you questions. Avoid drifting and going on and on when that happens. It’s very easy to incriminate yourself. Remember, they are going to use everything they hear against you. So be careful. Just stay to the point. If they want more information, they’ll keep asking questions, but just keep your answers to the point.
Don’t offer anything more than what’s asked for
Give them what they want and nothing more. If they want more, they’ll keep asking. You don’t need to tell them any more than what they’re actually asking for.
It’s okay to ask questions, but be specific and careful
It’s easy to drift from a question into a monologue or asking too much that might expand the inspection or incriminate you. So you can ask questions, but be careful and specific about it.
Never lie, argue or debate
Never lie. The cover up is always worse than the crime. Always be honest. Don’t argue with them. Don’t debate with them. When they tell you what they think a violation is, just make note of it, but don’t argue or debate with them. It is not going to help you.
OSHA Inspection 3-part process
This entire process could last one to two hours if they’re just looking at a specific hazard or hazards or it could take an entire day or it could literally take weeks or even months. The length is going to depend on the triggers in the scope of the inspection and the circumstances.
Keep in mind that the inspector has to deal with health exposure issues, like excessive noise or hazardous chemical exposures. They might end up having to come back or spend that entire day conducting exposure tests, because a lot of those exposure tests take eight hours to complete.
The opening conference happens when the inspector arrives and involves the following:
The inspector should tell you what triggered the inspection. This could be an employee complaint, a national emphasis program, high injury rates, etc. Any one of these could be the trigger. If they don’t tell you what the trigger is, make sure to ask. This is your opportunity to find out what the trigger is and try to figure out what the scope is. You can read more about the different triggers in this post .
If it was an employee complaint, ask for a copy of that complaint. It is okay to ask for a copy of that.
They should tell you what the scope of the inspection should be. The trigger often is going to determine the scope. Make sure to ask them what the scope will be. If it was an employee complaint, they are going to look at a specific hazard or a group of hazards. If it’s a comprehensive inspection, they are going to tell you that they are going to be looking at, scrutinizing and evaluating all areas of your compliance program, like your employee safety training program. Hopefully that is not the case, because that’s where a lot of the bigger fines and penalties can occur.
Make sure to ask what the scope of the inspection is if they don’t tell you. This is your chance to find out, and this will help lead to how you manage the rest of the inspection.
4. Attempt to negotiate access and scope
You don’t want to argue with them, but you do have the right to try to negotiate with them. When they tell you what the scope is and what the issue is, you can negotiate with them for access to your facility because that could help prevent the inspection from being expanded.
For example, if it’s a specific hazard, that’s all the way in the back of the plant, don’t walk them through the entire facility where they might see more violations and expand the inspection. Walk them outdoors all the way back to that back door, bring them in, show them where that specific hazard is and then walk them back out the back door and outside. They know that you can do that and it’s okay to do that.
Once the opening conference ends, they will quickly move on to the facility inspection.
1. Always stay with that inspector
You always want to be by their side.
2. Don’t allow them wander
When they wander off, they can see all kinds of things that could add up more violations, fines, and penalties.
3. Take the most direct route to the inspection area
4. Take detailed notes of everything said and done
Bring a pen and pad with you. Every time they say something or make some sort of observation or point out a problem, write it down. You want to take detailed notes of everything said and done.
5. Duplicate and record everything the inspector does
If they pull out a camera and they take a picture of something, you stand there and take a picture of the exact same thing. If they take a video, you take video. Duplicate and record everything that is done, not only on paper, but any sort of recordings or pictures that they might take.
6. Correct violations on the spot and take photographic evidence
This is really important. Correct violations on the spot and take photos or video to confirm that you corrected the violation. For example, if the inspector notices that a guard has been removed from a piece of equipment, replace that guard right then and take a picture of it.
If the Inspector points out that an employee is not wearing safety glasses, go get safety glasses and get them on that employee.
Fix violations as they identify them. It’s really important. If you just walk by and don’t fix problems, that is going to raise red flags for that inspector, and that’s not going to go well for you.
7. Ask questions
Be concise and careful about it so that you don’t incriminate yourself.
This could be an hour after it started. It could be at the end of that day. It could be weeks later. It could be months later. They are not going to have the closing conference until the inspection is finished. So on day one, if they’re not finished, they’re not going to be having a closing conference.
1. Review of violations and proposed citations
During the conference, the inspector should verbally review all the violations that they noted and that what they plan to recommend for formal citations. There’s a detailed review process they have to go through, but they should tell you everything that they noted as far as violations and recommended citations. Sometimes they will tell you what they believe the citation type will be (de minimis, other than serious, maybe even willful), sometimes not. If they don’t tell you what type they’re going to recommend, it’s okay for you to ask so that you know where you stand. In that previous post, we talked about all the different types of citations, how much the fines can be . It is important to understand what they are planning to recommend.
2. Get clarification if needed
This goes back to the point I mentioned above about asking questions. It’s okay. Be concise. You know, don’t argue with them. Don’t debate with them. If they make a recommendation for a violation, you just have to make note of it. Debating is not going to help. I can’t overemphasize that.
If they talk about a violation you’re not sure how to fix it, it’s okay to ask them how to fix it. Actually, it’s going to work in your favor because they want you to know how to fix it. They want to know that you’re going to take action to get things fixed as quickly as possible.
3. This is not the end of the process
Unless the inspector specifically told you during a closing conference that there were no violations, and they are not going to issue any citations or recommendations, the process is not over.
It’s important to understand that they have up to six months to actually issue citations, fines and penalties, so that letter might not show up literally for six months from the end of the closing conference.
In the next post, I’m going to talk about what to do after an inspection if the inspector has noted and recommended any violations .
Are you and 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 companies, the answer is probably no. And if that sounds like you, don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. The fact is that 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 run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Could you really afford that?
The best preparation and the best way to pass an inspection is to know and have the confidence that you have a fully functioning OSHA compliant health and safety program.
To help those of you who are looking to be proactive and make sure that your safety program is up to date, I’m going to make a very special free no obligation offer to you to help get you on track if you don’t have a safety program right now.
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