Rights / Responsibility with regards to an OSHA inspection

A case was presented to a discussion group recently concerning a visit from an OSHA inspector. The inspector was turned away by one of the bosses and told that they didn’t have time to him. He then returned with the police. The question raised was “What should we do? What are our rights? What can we expect?”

The Answer:

Under the OSHA act, an OSHA compliance officer is allowed to:

“Enter without delay and at reasonable times any factory, plant, establishment, construction site or other areas, workplace, or environment where work is being performed by an employee of the employer”; and to

“Inspect and investigate during regular working hours, and at other reasonable times, and within reasonable limits and in a reasonable manner, any such place of employment and all pertinent conditions, structures, machines, apparatus, devices, equipment and equipment therein, and to question privately any such employer, owner, operator, agent or employee.”

They do NOT have to call ahead or schedule an appointment. It isn’t unreasonable to explain to the officer that the timing is really bad if that is indeed the case (you’d better be able to prove that the timing is bad or it’ll just look like you are trying to get your house in order before allowing the inspection and it won’t sit well with the officer). If that is the case, you should immediately set an time for the inspector to return as soon as possible.

So what should you do when an OSHA inspector shows up?

  1. Ask to see his or her credentials. This is only common sense and the OSHA inspector should not take offense at being asked to produce them. Chances are they will show their credentials before you ask to see it them but if they don’t you have the right to ask.
  2. Ask about the nature of the inspection. Is there a warrant or is this a routine inspection? Is there a specific concern?
  3. You also have the right to assemble the appropriate personnel (safety officer, shift supervisor, for example) to accompany the inspector on the inspection. Never leave the inspector alone and unattended. If you have to leave for whatever reason have someone else take your place.
  4. The OSHA inspector has the right to ask any employee questions. This is a normal part of an inspection.
  5. The OSHA inspector has the right to take photos. If the inspector takes photos, take your own photos of the same areas that the inspector does for your own documentation.
  6. The inspector has the right to request specific documents. He or she does not have the right to browse through any and all documents at will. The documents that the inspector will almost always request to see include (but are not limited to):
    1. OSHA 200 and 300 logs (injury and illness reports)
    2. Your Written Hazard Communication Plan
    3. Documentation to show that employees have been trained concerning the Hazards in question
    4. MSDS sheets for any chemicals on site
  7. If a violation is received, it must be posted in the affected area for at least 3 days.
  8. If you are with the inspector during the inspection, answer all questions truthfully and honestly without directly admitting guilt. Answer only the questions you are asked and keep your answer direct and to the point.

It is important to remember that the inspector is not the enemy. Treat him or her with respect and give them the assistance that they need in order to do their job. Resistance and disrespect will usually “red flag” you and prolong the inspection or cause the inspector to be much more thorough then he or she might otherwise be. Rudeness and evasiveness will be interpreted as “they have something to hide”.

2010 Top OSHA Violations

The National Safety Council Congress and Expo in San Diego served as the backdrop for OSHAs’ release of the 2010 top 10 most cited violations. Turns out that it hasn’t changed much. Here’s the list:

1. Scaffolding, General
2. Fall Protection
3. Hazard Communication
4. Respiratory Protection
5. Ladders
6. Lockout/Tagout
7. Electrical, Wiring Methods
8. Powered Industrial Trucks
9. Electrical, General
10. Machine Guarding

Thomas Galassi, the director of OSHA’s directorate of enforcement program stated that this is the result of over 94,000 citations from the 2010 fiscal year. The top ten made up almost half of all the citations handed out.