The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is carrying out Swept Up in Safety Weeks, a series of unannounced workplace inspections that focus on what it calls the four leading causes of accidents: falls, struck by/crushing events, electrocutions, and caught-in-between events. An OSHA “intervention” can be frightening for any business. The agency can fine you or shut you down — and its findings could lead to private lawsuits or referrals to other agencies. Even if you get a clean bill of health, the inspection will distract management and create legal and consulting expenses.
What can you expect if OSHA drops by? Here’s the five-step procedure, together with some ideas to blunt unwarranted charges and minimize the penalties of any violations:
- Presentation of Credentials. When an inspector arrives, they’ll first present identification and seek to gain entrance. Check the ID and ask for a business card. You have the right to demand that the inspector obtain a warrant to enter, but many experts recommend against this; it’s equivalent to smacking a hornet’s nest.
- Opening Conference. The inspector will tell you the reason for the visit. If it was an employee complaint, you’re entitled to get a copy, but not the name of the complainant.
- Examination of Documents. The inspector will ask for your OSHA 300 Log and other accident and injury records. The inspector might also ask to see your written hazard communication program, MSDSs, and your lockout/tagout or other written safety procedures. If you have any doubt that they have a right to see something, ask (courteously) what regulation requires it.
- The Walkaround. This is the heart of the inspection. The inspector will identify potential safety and health hazards, evaluate the selection, maintenance, and use of Personal Protective Equipment, document apparent violations, and question employees privately. Do everything you can to co-operate.
- Closing Conference. At this meeting, the inspector will go their findings, and if there’s a violation, seek methods and a timetable for correction. You’ll also be told what rights you have and penalties you face if you don’t comply. You can negotiate for more time or lesser penalties. And if things come to loggerheads, you can contest the findings, but you must start this process within 15 days.
The key to coming through this ordeal as unscathed as possible? Keep your wits, act coolly, seek to obey the law and protect your workers, while safeguarding the interests of your business.