Many high hazard industries such as manufacturing and construction, especially small ones, are unaware of the potential risks related to OSHA fines and penalties.
For example, did you know that OSHA increased fines by 78% on 8/1/16? These increases raised the maximum fines for “Serious” Violations (the most common type) from $7,000 to $12,476, and “Willful” and “Repeats” from $70.000 to $124,709 each. Non compliant companies routinely receive fines that can run into the $tens or even $hundreds of thousands of dollars. It happens every single day, even to small companies.
These fines have continued to increase year since to account for inflation, meaning the current maximum for “Serious” OSHA violations is now $13,653 and Willful and Repeat violations are $136,532 EACH.
Given the magnitude of these risks, it’s vital that companies get prepared by implementing OSHA compliant health and safety programs. But achieving and maintaining compliance isn’t always enough, companies also need to be prepared in the event that OSHA shows up for inspection.
As a complimentary service, we’ve published this comprehensive procedure for managing and OSHA inspection for your use and benefit:
The purpose of [Company Name] OSHA Inspections SOP is to assist locations with preparation for and the effective management of an OSHA compliance inspection. Regions and locations can enhance, modify and adapt this SOP for their specific needs and environments, provided that those location SOPs are in writing and are at least as stringent and effective as those contained in this document.
Compliance Safety and Health Officer. A person authorized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, to conduct inspections.
Inspection. Any inspection of an employer’s factory, plant, establishment, construction site, or other area, workplace or environment where work is performed by an employee of an employer, and includes any inspection conducted pursuant to a complaint filed, any reinspection, follow-up inspection, accident investigation or other inspection conducted under the OSHAct.
OSHA Area Director. The employee or officer regularly or temporarily in charge of an Area Office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, or any other person or persons who are authorized to act for such employee or officer.
Working Days. Mondays through Fridays but shall not include Saturdays, Sundays, or Federal holidays. In computing 15 working days, the day of receipt of any notice shall not be included, and the last day of the 15 working days shall be included.
Corporate Safety shall be responsible for the oversight, administration and interpretation of this policy.
Business Unit Safety Manager is responsible for the administration of this policy and procedure at the regional level, coordinating those activities related to its implementation and administration. Provides direct assistance to the location and area managers when an OSHA inspection occurs.
Area Manager or Area Vice President provides full support and decision authority to implement policies modification as needed to ensure the policy is implemented correctly.
Location General Manager completes the OSHA inspection informational training to become familiar with the required procedures for OSHA inspections, keeps a copy of the [Company Name] SOP for OSHA Inspections readily available at the location, and contacts the Regional Safety Manager immediately when an OSHA representative arrives at the location.
Employees cooperates with the OSHA representative, giving truthful and direct answers to questions when asked and informing their [enter Job Title] or supervisor immediately when an OSHA representative arrives at their location.
Procedure 1. Background.
The construction industry and manufacturing associated with the construction industry have historically been deemed high “hazard industries” by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and, as a result, are frequently the subject of OSHA inspections. While in past years commercial contractors were subject to the most inspections, residential builders are routinely receiving inspections by OSHA.
[Company Name] will not receive advance notice of an inspection. [Enter Job Title] do have the legal right to demand a search warrant before allowing OSHA to inspect a facility or jobsite, however this is not recommended.
OSHA determines which employers will be inspected in several different ways. The construction industry is frequently subject to Special Emphasis Programs, both National and Regional since it is considered a high hazard industry. Many employers have been subject to an inspection simply because a compliance officer noticed the facility or a construction project while driving by. A large number of inspections are also the result of “complaints.” Any [Company Name] employee has the right to file a formal complaint when the employee believes he or she is working in an unsafe location or condition. An inspection will also automatically take place if the employer has a fatality. By law, [Company Name] is required to report to OSHA, within eight hours, a work-related accident that results in death of any employee or the hospitalization of three or more workers. OSHA is also required to inspect any worksite if the agency receives notice or believes there is “imminent danger” to employees that could cause death or serious bodily harm. Finally, OSHA may also conduct a “follow-up inspection” to determine if previously cited violations have been corrected.
It is always best to think about how your facility would respond to OSHA knocking at the door before it happens. Planning for an inspection in advance makes an inspection go smoother, allows [Company Name] management to be in control of the inspection, and creates a positive impression on an inspector which often results in fewer violations. Each [enter Job Title] should determine in advance who should be involved in the inspection process. This includes who will greet the inspector and accompany the inspector during the documentation review and facility walkthrough. This inspection team should be prepared to take notes on what happens during the inspection as well as take photographs in order to duplicate the pictures taken by the compliance officer at the same time. The purpose of an inspection is for the agency to gather evidence that violations are occurring or have occurred so the [Company Name] inspection team will want to collect the same information in order to correct the hazard or prepare a defense to any citations that may be issued.
It is the intent of [Company Name] to have all facility operations conducted in accordance with the requirements of the OSHA standards. However, it is critical that all [enter Job Title] ensure that likely areas of concern have been addressed before an inspection might occur. These include but are not limited to the following:
- Written programs (SOP)
- Hazard Communication
- Respiratory Protection
- Emergency Preparedness and Evacuation Procedures
- Training documentation
- Injury/illness records (OSHA Logs/300A) for the past 5 years
- General compliance with regulations
- Access provisions for exposure and medical records
- Posting requirements
Once a compliance officer arrives on a facility or jobsite, it is important to maintain a business-like manner. Hostile attempts to delay or obstruct the investigation will only antagonize the compliance officer. First impressions by the Compliance Officer often dictate the course of the inspection and the characterization of the citations, if any that result. So greet the inspector cordially and ask him or her to be seated so that he or she does not stroll around the premises. The [enter Job Title] and inspection team should be notified of the compliance officer’s arrival. Under no circumstances should the Compliance Officer be kept waiting more than a brief period of time while these persons are being notified. If management is not available, politely ask if the inspector could reschedule his/her visit.
The Compliance Officer should then be invited to the [enter location name], or another suitable meeting room, to meet with the inspection team. If the Compliance Officer does not do so on his own, then request that the Compliance Officer present his or her credentials. If there is any question about the Compliance Officer’s credentials, you may wish to contact the OSHA Area Office for verification.
The compliance officer will ask a representative of [Company Name] management, along with any appropriate company representatives, to participate in an opening conference. The [enter Job Title] should introduce the members of the inspection team, ask how the facility was selected, determine the scope of the inspection, explain the company’s document procedures, ask for the length of inspection and request that work interruptions be kept to a minimum, and advise inspector of plant safety procedures and require them to be followed.
When the compliance officer explains how the site was selected, the purpose and scope of the inspection make sure that if it is due to a complaint, ask for a copy of the complaint. Then negotiate the scope of the inspection to only address the specific complaint or question.
The Compliance Officer will also indicate during the opening conference whether the inspection will be primarily safety oriented or health oriented. If it is primarily a health inspection, the Compliance Officer will probably be an industrial hygienist, who will likely seek to review the plant’s exposure monitoring records and will typically conduct some form of sampling of workplace environmental conditions. To the extent that it is practical and feasible to do so, it is beneficial in such a situation for [Company Name] to hire an industrial hygienist to take samples alongside the OSHA industrial hygienist. This ensures that [Company Name] is not unjustly cited because of erroneous laboratory analysis or results that are not representative of actual conditions.
Procedure 5. The Inspection Process – Document Review.
During the opening conference or later in the inspection, the compliance officer may request workplace records such as the OSHA 300 injury and illness log and the written safety and health programs and training documentation. Documents should only be provided to the inspector when specifically requested. The [enter Job Title] or designee should be the only person to present the requested material. Except for compliance audit reports, all of the records should be made available to the Compliance Officer as requested. Do not refer to plant audits/inspection, and if asked for audit reports, contact the [enter Department] before providing them for review or copying. Do not leave documents in plain sight — anything an inspector notices can be used against you. The requested documents should be logged so there is a record of what was reviewed. All documents not in use should be put away.
Procedure 6. The Inspection Process – Facility Walkthrough.
The route and duration of the inspection are typically determined by the compliance officer. In general, try to show as little of the facility as possible. Legally, compliance officers can use anything in “plain view”. They are permitted to observe areas not covered by the employer’s consent or by the inspection and can cite them. If the inspection is a result of a complaint or special emphasis program then limit access to those specific areas. The compliance officer will observe safety and health conditions and practices; consult with employees privately, if necessary; take photos or videotape; take air and noise samples; and survey engineering controls.
The compliance officer will assess compliance with the OSHA’s safety standards applicable to the facility’s operations. The compliance officer will point out any unsafe or unhealthy conditions during the inspection. He will also discuss possible corrective action, if the employer so desires. It will be the policy of [Company Name] to immediately correct any potential or alleged violations wherever possible.
The compliance officer will take notes, pictures and/or videotape. The inspection team should attempt to take a matching set of photographs from the same angle as the compliance officer and take notes on what the inspector has said and also note which items were corrected immediately. Consider taking additional photos from other angles that may eventually support your position, should the facility choose to appeal any citations.
Some additional practices during an inspection include:
- Be courteous and business-like.
- Give no information unless it is asked for specifically
- Insist that inspectors not wander off alone
- Learn what you can about the inspector’s background
- Do not argue with the inspector about whether something is a violation
The site Maintenance Manager or a member of the maintenance staff must be present during the facility walkthrough to make any necessary repairs immediately for corrective action.
Procedure 7. The Inspection Process – Employee Interviews.
Compliance officers will typically interview employees as part of their inspection. This could be in the form of casual questioning at the employee’s work area to formal sit-down interviews in a conference or break room. [enter Job Title] should make sure that all employees are prepared to answer questions truthfully but that they do not volunteer any information. Questions should be answered specifically as they are asked in order to keep the inspection focused. No one should speculate if they are not sure of an answer. They should state that “I’ll check the facts and get back to you” or “We have a written program that covers that so it should be referenced”. Any employee has the right to refuse to speak to an inspector, request that management be with him or may speak to the inspector in private.
Procedure 8. The Inspection Process – Closing Conference.
After the walkthrough, document review and interviews are concluded, the compliance officer will conduct a closing conference with the inspection team. The compliance officer will describe any alleged violations and the OSHA safety standards that may have been violated. Ensure that comprehensive notes are taken and use the conference to correct errors and misunderstandings before any citation might be issued.
The compliance officer will not issue citations or assess penalties at the closing conference. Any citations and penalties will be received later by certified mail, which could take up to six months to be issued. However, ask inspector to specify citations that will probably be issued and how the violations will be characterized (serious, other than serious, etc.) but make no abatement date promises.
Statements made by Company representatives during the closing conference may affect the decision whether to issue a citation, the characterization of the citation, as well as the extent of the proposed penalty. It is, therefore, important to maintain a professional and courteous demeanor throughout the closing conference, even if there is strong disagreement with the Compliance Officer’s findings and conclusions. During the closing conference the [enter Job Title] should reiterate [Company Name] commitment to safety and produce any evidence to show good faith effort to comply. This can help to reduce the proposed penalties. The compliance officer will also explain the appeals process for contesting citations.
Immediately after the Compliance Officer leaves the plant site, the [enter Job Title] should meet with the inspection team and all appropriate management representatives concerned with the inspection to discuss both the OSHA inspection and the Compliance Officer’s observations and findings. The [enter Job Title] is responsible for formulating a plan to respond to the Compliance Officer’s observations and findings. The [enter Job Title] is also responsible for submitting a summary report of observations and findings to the [enter Job Title].
OSHA citations and proposed penalties shall be received by certified or registered mail. A copy of the citation(s) shall be posted at or near each place an alleged violation occurred, or if it is not practicable to post the citation at or near each place of alleged violation, then it shall be posted on the plant bulletin board or in the vicinity of the OSHA poster. Citations shall be posted for a minimum of 3 days or until the condition noted is abated, regardless of whether abatement was completed prior to receipt of the citation(s). A copy of the citation(s) shall be immediately faxed to the [enter Department].
Upon receipt of a citation, [Company Name] has fifteen (15) working days within which to notify OSHA in writing that it wishes to contest the citation and/or proposed notification of penalty. If [Company Name] does not agree with the citation, OSHA encourages an informal conference, usually with the OSHA Area Director, during this fifteen (15) working day period. This is almost always a good idea. It provides an opportunity for further discussion with the Compliance Officer and his or her supervisor, and the amount of penalty is often reduced as a result of these informal conferences.
It is important to remember that the informal conference does not extend the fifteen (15) working day requirement for the filing of a written notice of contest. If the outcome of the informal conference is not satisfactory, [Company Name] may still want to contest the citation. [Company Name] can contest all or any part of the alleged violations (including their characterization as willful, repeat, serious, or other-than-serious), the proposed assessment of penalties, the proposed abatement periods, or the entire citation. If a notice of contest is filed contesting an alleged violation, then as long as the alleged violation is under contest, there is no duty to correct the condition. If the citation and/or penalty is not contested within fifteen (15) working days from receipt, the citation and assessment become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission which cannot later be reviewed by any court or agency.
The Notice of Contest shall be sent to the Area Director via certified or registered mail. A copy of the Notice of Contest must be posted adjacent to the citation. Although sometimes there is no question that a hazardous condition exists and that it can be corrected without the expenditure of substantial sums of money, [Company Name] management should be aware that once a citation becomes a final order, it may be used as the basis for a repeat or willful violation. Thus, in determining the cost of whether or not to contest a citation, the implications of being cited for a repeat violation sometime in the future also should be considered.
The decision whether to contest an OSHA citation is to be made only after input from the [enter Department or Job Title].
Procedure 10. Training.
Initial Training. All [Company Name] Employees and Managers must complete [Company Name] Basic OSHA Inspections Training.
- All current / existing managers, supervisors, and employees.
- Newly Hired employees within 30 days of hire. Basic OSHA Inspections Training is accomplished via [enter method]. Records of training and verification of understanding by each employee completing the course are stored automatically in the [describe system]. Locations will be provided instructions and communications on the employee login and sign-up process for their respective work stations.Re-Training and Refresher Training.
- Retraining is scheduled through [describe system]. Circumstances where retraining is required include, but are not limited to:
- Changes in the SOP that render previous training obsolete; or
- Inadequacies in an employee’s knowledge or failure to implement SOP properly during a compliance inspection indicate that the employee has not retained the requisite understanding or skill.
This policy is supported by the following documents:
- [Company Name] S&H SOP – OSHA Inspections
- OSHA Inspection Quick Reference Guide
Questions & Exceptions:
If there are any questions or comments about this policy contact the [enter Job Title]. Any exceptions to this policy must be approved and recorded by the [Job Title].
As part of your OSHA inspection preparation, learn more about how to manage OSHA compliance here.
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