Handling an OSHA Inspection

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Handling an OSHA Inspection

By Diane M. Calabrese / Published May 2016



Be prepared. In a nugget, that statement covers the A to Z of handling an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection. To start with A, any employer that does not have a copy of the two-page OSHA® Fact Sheet on OSHA Inspections (www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/factsheet-inspections.pdf) should get one, read it, and keep it for reference.

OSHA does not provide advance notice of an inspection. An employer can request that the compliance officer get an inspection warrant before entering the workplace. According to OSHA, there are more than seven million workplaces in the United States. Given how many worksites there are, compliance officers prioritize inspections, in part by focusing on what are potentially the most hazardous workplaces because of the type of work being done.

Another high priority for inspection is given to worksites where there has been an OSHA-reportable incident that resulted in serious injury or death. Also on the priority-for-inspection list are sites where there have been complaints from workers or referrals from other agencies and similar entities.

Priorities aside, OSHA’s compliance officers can visit any worksite at any time. Given that OSHA exists to enforce standards that ensure the safety and health of all in the workplace, the approach makes sense. It gets the point across that everyone must be working in a manner that promotes health and safety at all times.

“The best way to be prepared for an OSHA inspection is to have a strong safety program in place and to be in compliance with OSHA regulations,” says John W. Finger, president/CEO of Sioux Corporation in Beresford, SD. “In our case, the largest engineering college in the state has an OSHA safety course for manufacturers, and all supervisors, managers, and the president have taken the course. As a result, we assigned each section of 29 CFR Part 1910 to a manager to ensure compliance. Having an American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certified-shop helps.”

Employers across our industry share the goals of OSHA. They want their employees to spend a productive day at work that is also a safe day at work. “Ensuring a safe workplace for employees is a top priority,” says Finger. “Each new employee from day one receives a series of safety training, including safety videos, safety procedures, a safety manual, and a safety walk orientation pointing out eye wash stations, defibrillator, fire extinguisher, etc.”

photo1Everyone is engaged in safety, explains Finger. “We hold regular safety meetings, and management from the top down fully supports all of the safety programs. We have a safety committee, and we regularly walk through our facility with a representative of the headquarters of our insurance company to look for areas where we can make improvements.”

Look to experts for advice about whether there are improvements that can be made, explains Finger. “We also asked the state electrical inspector to walk through our facility to identify areas that we can improve, and we have implemented those recommendations. We also ask any electrical contractors doing work in the plant to offer suggestions for safety improvements that we can make anywhere in the facility.”

The effort to do everything possible to ensure a safe work environment includes the entire team. “We track safety improvements, and we have completed 164 separate projects to date,” says Finger.

“We administered an employee survey, ranking a long list of items, and ‘we have a safe workplace’ came out number one on the survey as a result of our efforts in this area,” says Finger. “We believe that OSHA has the same goal as we do: to ensure a safe work environment for all employees.”

Self-Testing, Continuous Improvement

We have all readied ourselves for a test by asking a friend, sibling, or parent to quiz us on what we were supposed to know for the real thing. A self-test can be a good idea in a workplace, too. Ideally, a self-test will reveal that employees are doing everything they should be doing to ensure workplace health and safety. Beyond that, though, it will allow employees to identify gaps in knowledge.

Linda Chambers, brand and sales manager at GCE/Soap Warehouse Brand, which is located in Snellville, GA, writes about the scope of a drill in the sidebar. She reminds us any mock exercise must be identified as such from the start. Employees must always know that a drill is just a drill, and the person playing the role of an inspector is just playing a role. As with any drill, however, the purpose is to demonstrate proficiency.

Maintaining a safe and healthy workplace requires a sustained commitment. There is always something that can be done better. Especially with changing technologies, the opportunity for continuous improvement keeps presenting itself.

Like Finger, Chambers advises taking advantage of all resources available to meet every expectation for worker safety and health. Begin with the basics, of course.

“The first place to go to know what needs to be learned and passed on in training can be found online at www.osha.gov,” says Chambers. “For inspections, you can read or download the OSHA free publication OSHA Inspections, www.osha.gov/Publications/osha2098.pdf. There you can also find specific training examples, programs, etc. for any topic that OSHA covers. They offer free publications, information, and training videos.”

With all the fundamentals in place, move to more resources. “Visit Youtube.com,” says Chambers. “There you can find volumes of free, topic-specific videos that cover safety. There are some good channels to subscribe to so you get any new videos as they are posted.”

Chambers has several channels that she finds useful. “I suggest following channels like OSHA Training Services, Safety Memos, ClickSafety Training, Convergence Training, IES Training and Safety, CUW Health and Safety, SafetyVideos.com, and Federal Safety Solutions.”

As our expert sources emphasize, OSHA and employers desire the same outcome. In that context, members of our industry realize compliance officers from OSHA can themselves be an important part of the learning process. During the walk-around part of an inspection, an officer will point out issues that must be corrected. Prompt correction of issues is expected by OSHA and attained by committed employers.

Every OSHA inspection includes a closing conference during which findings are discussed and possible courses of action are discussed. OSHA’s goal is to help employers get it right to the benefit of employees and employers. 


Scope Of A Drill Tests Employees On What They Should Know

Contributed by Linda Chambers

Teach each employee what their role is, the information they need to know if an OSHA inspector makes a visit, and what they can direct to another staff member. A regular employee is not responsible for knowing where and how to supply the inspector with a current accident report, DOT Hazmat certification records, etc., but they must be able to show an inspector where the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) binder, Right-to-Know, workers’ compensation poster, and such general materials are located—as they were first trained when they started work with the company.

Each employee must know who the safety director and hazmat coordinator are, if they are different people. It is also important to teach employees exactly what an OSHA inspector is allowed to do, so they are not put in an uncomfortable position or feel they are being pressured to give information they are not required to give. For instance, an inspector cannot refuse to be accompanied throughout the entire inspection, but they can ask to speak to an individual employee or employees one at a time in private.

An OSHA inspector can ask an employee to demonstrate to them a certain task, including showing what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is available for them to use to perform the task. The inspector must show up during normal working hours for the business and must ask owner permission before conducting a warrantless inspection, meaning one carried out without legal or official authorization. The inspector must inform the owner the reason or exact pur- pose for the inspection and the scope of what they plan on examining. In other words, they cannot just show up out of the blue uninvited to look for violations just to try and find some. They can only ask for records required by OSHA, a 300 log and 301 forms, the business safety manual, program binder or files, and equipment maintenance and inspection records. They cannot ask to see employee personnel files (unless copies of OSHA training are kept in the files and then only those pages should be taken out to be examined), financial records, etc.

For the drill, ask a business friend to come to the business or approach a crew in the field as an OSHA inspector might do. Supply this person with specific direction as to what they are to do and questions they are to ask. But, do not let him make the employee think he is a real inspector; let them know upfront that it is a mock training exercise but to conduct themselves just as they would as if it were real. Later, after speaking with the mock inspector, you can conduct a follow-up training meeting to go over what was done right and whether anything needs to be taught again or training needs to be updated.  Linda Chambers is Brand & Sales Manager at GCE/ Soap Warehouse Brand.