If you’ve been notified of an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), you need to respond quickly. You also need to know how to prepare your employees for any questions they may be asked by an OSHA inspector. Here’s how to handle your company’s possible citation.
Talk to Your Attorney
If your company has received notice of an OSHA inspection, you should consult with an attorney right away. Your lawyer will help you gather the information you need to prepare for the investigation.
Greeting the Inspector
The inspector will arrive at the company and present his or her credentials. The inspector will inform you of the reason for the visit. Common reasons for OSHA visits are investigating and performing routine inspections. Other reasons for an OSHA visit include:
- A referral from another government agency
- Abatement Inspections
- Follow-up inspections
- Programmed inspections
While you can refuse an inspection, doing so can prompt the inspector to obtain a court order for your records.
The reason for your OSHA inspector’s visit could be something as simple as making sure your marking labels are in good shape, and making sure that you use quality labels such as BabelPlex marking labels. Also make sure that yours are displayed in the proper locations. Or, the inspector could be visiting for something more serious. You can find out more about the most frequently cited violations on the OSHA website.
The Opening Conference
Gather the appropriate staff members (i.e. directors, managers) for the opening conference. You and your team members will be able to ask questions and take notes about the nature of the inspection. If the inspector’s visit is due to a complaint of imminent danger, an accident, or a worker fatality, he or she may shorten the opening conference and proceed directly to the inspection. If the visit is due to an employee or a third party, you can request a copy of the complaint before allowing an inspection. Keep in mind that during the inspection, or walk-around, the OSHA inspector has the right to question employees and ask to see safety documents.
After the inspector has told you his or her reason for the visit, he or she will proceed to the inspection, or walk-around. Make sure the safety director or a manager is present for the inspection. During the walk-around, take note of the inspector’s comments and remarks. Be sure to get copies of every photo or video taken by the inspector during the walk-around.
Before the inspection, advise your employees of their rights. Give them guidelines for speaking with the OSHA inspector. Employees have the right to:
- Refuse an interview (although this could prompt the OSHA inspector to subpoena the interview).
- Request that a manager or lawyer be present at the interview.
- End the interview.
Instruct your employees to tell the truth, but to only provide basic facts. Employees shouldn’t speculate or guess, but instead use a phrase like, “We’re still looking into that matter.”
After the interview, take note of the questions the inspector asked your employee, the employee’s responses to those questions, and whether the employee was ask to sign a written statement.
Accident Reports and Records Review
During the walk-around, the inspector may request certain records. Some of the records the inspector may ask to see are:
- Accident reports
- First aid records
- Safety meeting minutes
- Training reports
- Inspection records
Make a list of what documents the inspector requested, and keep a record of how the documents were transmitted.
Have your lawyer review your accident reports before giving the reports to the inspector. Accident reports should contain only facts, without any speculation or theories about how an incident occurred.
The OSHA inspector will conclude his or her visit with a closing conference. Your safety director should be present, along with any other management personnel you deem appropriate. Take notes of everything the inspector says during the closing conference. During this closing conference, the inspector may let you know of any potential citations that could be issued to your company.
What to do After a Citation
If you’ve been cited, you’ll need to decide whether to accept the penalty or contest the citation. If you choose to contest the citation, you must file a Notice of Contest within 15 days of receipt of your citation. This notice will specify whether you’re contesting the citation, the penalty amount, or both.
After receiving a citation, you’ll also have the option of scheduling an Informal Conference. If you opt for this conference, you can attempt to reduce or even eliminate your citations and penalties.