Everything You Need to Know about OSHA Audits
First, the good news. Unless there is a trigger, your business does not need to worry about an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) audit. But the bad news is that, if there has been a safety incident at one of your locations, be prepared for an OSHA Audit as it will most likely happen unannounced. Therefore, being audit-ready at any time is a good idea. In this blog, we provide the playbook for what an OSHA audit involves and how you can be ready for it, should one take place in your organization.
What is an OSHA Audit?
OSHA conducts safety audits to review safety programs and strategies, assess the reliability and effectiveness of the safety management program, evaluate its compliance with CFR 29 part 1910, and ensure that it is aligned with the organization’s goals.
OSHA conducts three types of safety audits:
- Compliance Audits: Safety programs, regulations, recordkeeping, and employee training programs are audited for compliance with 29 CFR 1910.119, paragraph (o).
- Program Audits: The effectiveness of the safety programs is assessed and gaps are identified.
- Management System Audits: The safety program is assessed for its effectiveness in meeting the company policy and OSHA regulations.
What Triggers an OSHA Audit?
OSHA conducts audits on organizations in any industry if:
- Serious injury or fatality (SIF), one of the main contributing factors, up to about a quarter every year
- Complaints from employees, also responsible for a quarter of inspections annually
- A “drive-by” or “clear view” situation, which means when a hazard is clearly evident and reported by an OSHA inspector
- As a follow-up for an earlier inspection or citation to ensure the hazardous condition has been corrected
- The company belongs to a hazardous industry or the operations are hazardous
- To ensure special enforcement for specific hazards such as hot work, falls, etc.
- Enforcement of labor laws in targeted companies for joint inspections by groups such as the State Contractor Licence Board and Worker Compensation
How to Be Prepared for OSHA Audits?
Since OSHA audits happen without warning and are triggered by events or complaints, being prepared in advance will go a long way in demonstrating compliance and workplace safety.
Step 1: The first key step is to train a company representative and create a team that will be with the auditors during the audit process, providing answers, sharing relevant documents, and explaining safety policies, procedures, and recordkeeping.
Step 2: Ensure the proper documentation of all safety management programs such as hazard assessment and controls, safety policies and procedures, illness and injury prevention program, training logs, equipment inspection records, OSHA 300 logs, and so on.
Apart from mandatory safety programs, businesses are also expected to keep documents and records ready that are implied rather than specified, such as inspecting ladders, forklifts, etc.
What Happens During the Audit?
The audit begins with the OSHA Compliance Officer (CSHO) introducing themselves and laying down the agenda in what is called the “opening conference”, including the reason for their being there and the basic process that will be followed. The next step is to ask for the required documents and records. As the auditor inspects the premises, the accompanying team must document the actions and the comments for further action and reference. If needed, it can also be videographed and photographed. In addition to helping the workers understand the safety issue, these records will also be important evidence in case the organization contests the citation or penalty.
A complete record must include:
- The inspector’s name, title, and contact details
- The date and time of the inspection
- The reason stated during the opening conference
- The participants of the opening and closing conferences
- The documents requested and submitted
The team must answer the questions asked but keep the answers short and to the point.
At the end of the audit, there will be a closing conference when any apparent violations and corrective measures to be implemented within a reasonable time frame will be discussed along with the consequences in case of non-compliance. The team must note these dates and warnings for further action without debating with the CSHO.
Does the Team Have to Answer All Questions?
The audit contact point is expected to answer the questions the CSHO asks and must cooperate fully. But they also have rights - they can be brief and to the point. They must also be in control of the inspection and ensure that the CSHO is complying with the site or facility safety procedures such as wearing the correct PPE which they must bring along.
Who Initiates the Audit Process?
The audit process is initiated when an OSHA Compliance Officer contacts a job site or the headquarters of the business. Whoever is contacted, the person must be aware of who the designated point within the organization is and have them get in touch with the CSHO. The CSHO will allow a reasonable time for the representative to reach the location, but this time can vary from half an hour to an hour, except if a safety manager or legal counsel needs to be present. A warrant for the CSHO to enter the premises is not mandatory, but the business has the legal right to ask for one. The risk of the following audit becoming more rigorous is high. Cooperating with the auditor and remaining polite may work better in the long run. If the CSHO wishes, other employees may be interviewed without the management representative being present. The employees have the right to speak or remain silent.
During management and supervisor interviews, the presence of another manager or counsel is advised. In the case of SIF, the attorney should be present during any interview. The CSHO cannot compel anyone to sign any report or document at the end of the audit or interview.
Can There Be an Appeal Against Citations?
OSHA is required by law to issue citations in case of violations of safety and health standards within 6 months of the opening inspection.
The citation will include the following information:
- The standard that was violated
- The description of the alleged violative condition
- The penalty to be paid
- The demand for corrective action to be taken along with a date by which it must be done.
The employer can file an intent to appeal against the citation within 15 working days of receiving it. The grounds on which the appeal can be made include:
- Incorrect standard is cited
- The penalty is too punishing
- The citation’s contention is disputed
- The employer is unaware of the violation condition
- The level of the citation is not right (such as willful, serious)
- Making the employer responsible for creating unsafe conditions is incorrect.
Contesting the citation can help reduce the severity and the penalty amount.
How Can the Audit Help the Organization?
The audit and the citation help the employers understand the hazards, their severity, and the mitigative action that must be taken to eliminate them or reduce the impact. The follow-up action to mitigate the unsafe condition must be taken as soon as possible and documents demonstrating the action taken, presented to avoid penalties.
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