The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the governing body for workplace safety in the U.S. As such, the agency decides if your business meets the required safety criteria to remain operational, so their inspections are not an event that should be taken lightly. Beyond the most important implication, that an unsafe work environment can be dangerous to your employees, there are also the financial penalties that come with OSHA citations. Citations can be as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars, enough to put many businesses out of commission. Egregious violations of safety protocols may even mean the business gets shut down outright, even if it can afford to pay the fines. Even if you aren’t expecting an inspection any time soon, it’s good business to make sure your workplace meets safety standards so your employees aren’t at risk. In light of this, the following is an account of what to expect during an OSHA inspection and tips on how to pass it.
First, the best way to handle an OSHA inspection is to avoid getting inspected in the first place. Fortunately OSHA isn’t secretive about the safety measures they expect to be present in the workplace. Events that trigger inspections are mostly common sense--complaints from employees, too many incident reports, and of course, referrals from visitors to the facility who saw offenses so blatant they felt compelled to report it. Taking preemptive action to keep your facility up to code won’t eliminate the scheduled inspections, but it can eliminate unexpected arrivals entirely.
Taking steps to keep your safety documentation up-do-date is another way for companies to prepare for inspections proactively. OSHA mandates you keep safety logs for at least five(5) years after their creation(2). This assumes the company has been in operation for longer than 5 years, of course. Even if you can’t remember or produce logs from dates that go too far back, instilling policies about record keeping that ensure you’ll have logs going forward is better than none at all.
Relevant employee training is also a part of safety preparation. Depending on the industry, this might be a simple process like informing employees where to find the exits and first-aid kits, or a deeper set of rules if the situation warrants them. Organizations that operate have inherently hazardous conditions like heavy machinery and hot metals must be especially vigilant, as risk for serious injury and lawsuits add more challenges to the OSHA concerns.
Looking to start an internal OSHA audit to prepare for an upcoming inspection?
Management should also be aware that OSHA officials won’t just show up and demand a tour of the grounds immediately. According to former Certified Safety Health Official(CSHO) Paul McNeill (1), OSHA not only grants an hour after their arrival before the clock starts during an inspection, and the agency will even come back at a later date if the company has a policy that prohibits revealing confidential information on a first time visit. We’re not suggesting you try and cover anything up here, but there is no shame in using the extra time to fix a few minor things you let slip. It also allows such actions as sending out memos to employees to let them know that OSHA is performing an inspection.
Assuming you have exhausted all the time-buying options, expect the following to happen after the official’s arrival, generally in the same order:
OSHA will conduct a follow-up meeting, usually remotely, to discuss their findings. This could happen from a week to over a month after the inspection, and it would be wise to fill this waiting period by getting ahead of any anticipated concerns.
Ideally, OSHA will find no fault in any part of your company’s health and safety apparatus, but there is no accounting for the official’s leniency, or lack thereof. Some may impose citations and deadlines to correct them before the process begins again. Others may impose these measures on top of fines for violations. During this phase, it is most important that you seek to correct hazards in earnest, and avoid trying to game the system with a casual approach.