osha-inspection-processThe OSHA inspection process strikes fear into the hearts of business owners and managers. But if you know what to expect there’s no reason to cower.

The OSHA inspection process reflects five priorities, in this decreasing order of severity:

  1. Imminent danger. OSHA can do a “wall-to-wall” inspection in this instance, and they can shut down your facility.
  2. Catastrophes and fatal accidents. This is triggered by an occupational accident resulting in death or at least three employees being hospitalized. You have eight hours to report this.
  3. Complaints and referrals. The most common, these are generated by employees, neighbors, doctors, police, even other agencies such as DOT or EPA. Inspections may only include the area where the violation is alleged to be occurring.
  4. Programmed inspections. Inspectors visit workplaces reporting unusually high incidence of injury-related lost-work days.
  5. Follow-up inspections. Previously cited workplaces are re-inspected to confirm compliance.

OSHA doesn’t usually announce their arrival. Be prepared by:

  • Knowing your responsibilities. You can conduct a mock audit yourself or have a consultant conduct one for you.  Conducting a mock audit helps you detect problems and your mock audit cannot be used against you, now or later.
  • Making sure your employees fully understand required policies and procedures, especially about HAZCOM. You must maintain complete training records.

If they come:

  • Verify the inspector’s credentials, a DOL identification card.
  • You don’t have to let them in, but they can return with a search warrant.
  • They must state the inspection reason. Unless it’s imminent danger, their authority is limited to the specific area in question. Lead them directly there.
  • The OSHA inspection process allows them to talk to your employees and see your HAZCOM training records. Do not offer them anything else.
  • The inspector will discuss findings with you, but not potential fines. Correct problems immediately, if you can.

If there are violations, OSHA will mail you a citation letter explaining details and the fine. Post your citation in a prominent place for the length of time specified. Fine amounts vary, but willful violations, where you knew about but ignored problems, are the most costly.

The OSHA inspection process allows you to simply pay your fine, request an extension or appeal the fine, formally or informally. Since the point is to create a safe workplace, an informal appeal can sometimes underscore your desire to do the right thing by making corrections rather than arguing. In some cases, this may significantly reduce your fine.