How to Prepare for an OSHA Inspection: Always Be Ready
Blog | December 20th, 2022

How to Prepare for an OSHA Inspection: Always Be Ready

As part of its commitment to making workplaces safe and healthy, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducts surprise inspections of shopfloors and worksites, especially in highly hazardous industries. The inspectors, also called compliance safety and health officers (CSHO), are highly trained in industrial hygiene and safety – and enforce compliance by ensuring businesses meet OSHA requirements. Improved compliance can reduce workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths by reducing on-the-job hazards.

With jurisdiction over nearly 7 million worksites, OSHA inspections normally happen in hazardous workplaces and can be initiated because of one of the following reasons:

1. Imminent Danger Situations – Worksites where the risk of death or serious physical harm is high, OSHA makes it a high priority to inspect them and recommend mitigative measures to rectify hazards or remove at-risk employees.

2. Severe Injuries and Illnesses – In places that have had work-related fatalities or inpatient hospitalizations. Employers are expected to report deaths within 8 hours. In case of amputations or loss of an eye, they must report within 24 hours.

3. Worker Complaints – Employees may allege hazards or violations. They have the right to remain anonymous when filing complaints.

4. Referrals – Third-party entities such as federal, state, or local agencies, or the media may report hazards that will be considered for inspection.

5. Targeted Inspections – Specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces with high rates of injuries and illnesses will be inspected on priority.

6. Follow-up Inspections – Where a previous inspection reveals severe violations, a follow-up inspection may be initiated to ensure the recommendations have been implemented and there is an abatement of violations.

Why Documentation and Training are Critical to Being Ready for an OSHA Inspection

Often, OSHA inspections are conducted without prior announcement and, therefore, can be very stressful for the business. But this very reason makes it important for businesses to be “always ready” for inspections.

Being prepared is not a one-day job. It requires a continual effort by the organization to have a culture of safety. Every employee must be aware of and conform to safety policies and procedures and participate proactively in making the workplace safe. But beyond that, it is also important to keep the employees and the workplace in a state of readiness for such surprise inspections.

Employees can ask the inspector for ID to confirm that they are indeed from OSHA. Once the credentials have been established, the OSHA inspector will conduct an opening conference, following which there will be a tour of the premises. Once that is done, employees and the management will be interviewed, and the inspection will conclude with a closing conference.

During the inspection, the inspector will also ask for documents, which should be ready and easily accessible to make a favorable impression. Most importantly, it should be accurate. Also, knowing the purpose of the inspection will help anticipate the needs and complete it quickly and smoothly.

A quick look at what OSHA inspection involves –

1. Preparing for the Inspection: Businesses in a state of inspection readiness will have less need for OSHA inspections. However, even when it is conducted, the process will be faster and reduce the chances of penalties and fines. Some important areas where businesses should have proper and updated documents and records to demonstrate compliance include employee training in their core areas as well as on OSHA standards, their implications for the industry you operate in, and the health and safety programs in the organization.

The OSHA standards must be easily accessible to employees for reference and assessing their applicability. All workplace illness and injury records (OSHA 300, 301, 300A) must be in electronic format and within easy reach. The workplace should have posters reminding employees of their right to file a safety or health complaint, be a part of the opening and closing conferences, access inspection records, and be safe from retaliation for exercising these rights.

Constituting a safety committee that evaluates workplace health and safety programs, audits potential hazards, reviews incidents provides recommendations, and implements corrective actions is also important. Their activities must be documented and readily available if required. An inspection team must also be in place, and at least one member must be present at the time of the inspection. When the CSHO arrives, also ensure that the legal counsel is present throughout the inspection process to provide the correct information at the right time.

2. The Opening Conference: During the opening conference, the purpose will be explained. This should be documented for future reference.

The accompanying team should be introduced and their roles should be explained. Make sure the team follows all the safety measures, uses PPE if required, and informs the inspector of any site-specific safety issues. Work areas must be clean and well organized, safety equipment should be in place and functional, and the other staff not part of the inspection team must also follow the safety protocols. Inform them about the presence of an OSHA inspector.

Provide only the documents that are required and nothing more and ensure all protocols such as lockout and tag-out procedures are followed diligently. Schedule employee interviews as needed.

If the inspection is spread across several working days, brief the inspection team based on the concerns of the inspector. While scheduling the next day’s activities and interviews, prepare any sampling the inspector may need.

3. The Inspection Tour: During the inspection, do not perform any non-routine or high-hazard tasks if possible. If any area is not specified in the OSHA administrative warrant, do not allow the inspector to enter there unless the inspector gets additional warrant authorization to do so. Do not volunteer additional information or leave notes in plain sight. Do not provide access to confidential employee-related information and documents. They must be labeled as confidential and collected separately.

The inspector may take photos and videos, measure the areas being inspected, and monitor the environment. Document the activities performed by the inspector. Keep an expert or a third-party duplicate of data related to industrial hygiene data.

Take prompt corrective action in case of any violation and document them to demonstrate compliance.

4. Employee and Management Interviews: Ensure only the right employees who are aware of the processes and operations are interviewed by the inspector to avoid delays and inaccurate information from being shared. The employees must be well prepared for the interviews through safety training that includes areas or topics an inspector might discuss.

Inform employees of their interview rights and have a supervisor present with them. The interviews cannot be recorded (audio or video) or documented and they do not have to sign their own statement or the inspector’s notes of the CSHO. Employees should be encouraged to speak the truth as any falsification can backfire. Giving brief, precise answers and admitting to ignorance where they do not know the answer – is important. Debrief the interviewed employee and record the results for future learning.

5. Closing Conference: The closing conference can be held for all the team members at once or each one individually if the management requests so. The OSHA inspector may conduct a conference first to gather more input. The CSHO will share his observations and provide recommendations to correct and improve in case of any violations, as also inform about fines and penalties, if applicable.

Document the conference, and ask questions without arguing with the inspector or admitting to committing the violations. To correct any errors or mistakes, provide additional information as required.

In case of a citation, it should be displayed in the inspected workplace for three days at least or till it has been rectified. Not posting it will also be deemed a violation.

Automating the inspection process with ComplianceQuest’s EHS Management software helps prepare employees and the workplace for a surprise inspection. Centralized document and training management solutions integrated with the safety management software help improve compliance and equips employees with information and skills to create a culture of safety and minimize violations.

To find out more about CQ EHS and how it can help your organization prepare for an OSHA Inspection, request a demo here:

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