6 Vital Steps to Pass Your Manufacturing OSHA Inspection

“Be Prepared” isn’t just a long-time Boy Scout motto — it’s a core attitude that every small manufacturing firm should keep in mind when facing their dreaded OSHA inspection.

After all, OSHA violations, citations, and fines are no stroll in the woods. Penalties begin at $16,131 per violation and can top out at ten times that number for willful or repeated violations. But with thoughtful preparation and an understanding of exactly what you’ll encounter during an inspection, you can protect yourself, your company, and your workers.

Read on to learn six fundamental steps manufacturing leaders should follow so you’ll be prepared when the OSHA inspector shows up at your doorstep.

What is an OSHA inspection?

An OSHA inspection is a systematic examination of a workplace’s compliance with environmental health and safety regulations set down by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). But here’s the thing you should know: OSHA doesn’t have the resources to inspect every manufacturing facility in the country. The reality is that inspections are typically triggered when employees make complaints or OSHA receives reports of workplace injuries or fatalities.

Compliance officers show up (generally without notice) to investigate facilities and evaluate potential hazards. Their goal is to ensure that employers are providing a safe, healthy working environment.

How to Prepare for an OSHA Inspection

The fact is that OSHA hits manufacturers across the country every single day, so it’s vital that you’re prepared for that possibility.  Because not only can an unsafe manufacturing work environment lead to serious injuries and sometimes fatalities, but it can also lead to massive fines and penalties.

Obviously, we hope that this never happens to your company, but again, inspections can and do happen every single day. The best way to prepare against that possibility? Prepare beforehand.

Here are six clear steps you can take to make sure you’re ready for an inspection if (and when) it happens.

Step 1. Conduct a self-audit.

Be proactive before an accident or inspection occurs. Start with a thorough self-audit and meticulously review your workplace to identify potential health and safety hazards. Pinpoint areas of potential violation. We recommend paying particularly close attention to health and safety requirements, Lockdown/Tagout (LOTO) procedures, and hazard communication, because these are areas that OSHA often pinpoints for scrutiny.  With your management team, work to address and correct any issues you’ve uncovered.

By conducting your own audit, you’re not only saving yourself a potential inspection headache—you’re showing your employees that you value their health and safety.

Step 2. Establish an effective safety management program.

Building an effective safety management system goes a long way towards preparing for an OSHA inspection. Develop protocols and procedures that are specifically tailored to the risks and hazards present in your workplace.

Maintain these safety policies through comprehensive staff training. Don’t skimp on regular safety drills and exercises. Your employees should not only feel prepared, but confident about what to do in the event of an emergency. An effective safety program provides a strong foundation for a safe work environment.

Step 3. Cultivate a strong safety culture.

Creating a safety-first mindset in the workplace starts at the top, but ultimately it needs to include everyone. First and foremost, this means all safety policies and procedures must be clearly communicated. Hold regular safety committee meetings and provide routine training. Post clear signage and visual aids throughout the workplace. For more complicated policies, make sure employees have easy access to handbooks and guides.

Don’t forget, it takes a village. Foster the right safety-conscious workplace culture by actively involving your employees in safety initiatives. Find ways to recognize and reward safe behavior. After all, being safe doesn’t mean being boring.

Step 4. Maintain documentation.

When the OSHA inspector shows up, you need to be able to provide clear and up-to-date documentation. So, make sure you’re keeping thorough records of all your safety policies and procedures, as well as the trainings you provide to your employees. Keep a log of all inspections and maintenance activities on equipment as well.

In addition, develop a system for storing and retrieving this information. Digital storage is great, but it’s worth having archival backups just in case.

There’s nothing worse than not knowing where to look when the inspector starts asking for documents and records, because unfortunately it tells the OSHA inspector that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Step 5. Draft a formal health and safety policy—and post it.

If you don’t already have one, take the time to draft and post a formal company health and safety policy. Make sure it’s signed (in actual ink) by the owner and/or most senior-level manager and post it prominently. The front lobby is a great place. Not only does this showcase your commitment to your employees, it’s public-facing for visitors and OSHA inspectors.

If your company doesn’t already have a policy, or safety program, this is a great place and opportunity to get things started.  Call an “all hands meeting” of all employees, so they can watch the owner or company leadership sign the policy and then hang it on the wall.  That will absolutely send the right message about safety and get things started on the right foot!

A word of caution: a written policy that isn’t backed up by a solid health and safety program is meaningless. Worse, it can actually backfire in the event of an emergency or inspection. So, before you put pen to paper, go back to Step 2 and make sure you’ve got an effective safety program in place along with actionable ongoing safety management.

Step 6. Create an action plan for an OSHA inspection.

In addition to creating plans, policies, and procedures for health and safety, take the time to draft something specific for what to do if and when an OSHA inspector shows up. Assign a staff manager—and a backup—to manage any potential inspection. Train them on how to manage an inspection (we’ll cover this in more detail in a future post!).

If you don’t have an internal safety manager, that’s okay. You can assign the manager or staff member who is most familiar with your company’s health and safety compliance programs. Pro tip: Make sure they know exactly where to access your relevant documentation so they can produce it seamlessly for an inspector who requests it.

Take a Proactive Approach to Prepare for OSHA Inspections.

Don’t wait until an OSHA compliance officer knocks on your door to start preparing for an inspection. Not sure where to start with conducting a self-audit, establishing a safety program, or maintaining the right documentation? Not to worry—we’ve got you covered. Book a free strategy call with our expert team today!