Tips On Handling The OSHA Inspection

August 8, 2002
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ANN ARBOR, MI — There are some sure-fire ways to guarantee that OSHA will knock on your door, according to Ken Zans, conference speaker for the Keye Productivity Center. However, he was quick to add some tips on what do when that happens. Zans pointed out that OSHA is authorized to conduct workplace inspections, which are often triggered by one of these situations:

  • Imminent danger;

  • Fatal accidents;

  • Employee complaints;

  • Programmed high-hazard inspections; and

  • Follow-up inspections

    Regarding fatal accidents, Zans noted, “If you have a work-related death, you must call OSHA within eight hours of the incident. If an incident involves three or more employees, you must call OSHA within eight hours.

    “OSHA will follow up on every complaint. If you want to know if your business is on the inspection list, visit www.osha.gov and you can usually find out.”

    A high incident ratio — the number of reported incidents divided by employee hours (EH) — is another sure way to prompt an OSHA inspection, and Zans has some advice for that.

    “A high EH is good, which includes overtime hours, so don’t let OSHA figure the ratio because they will use a lower EH formula.”

    THE INSPECTION

    There are four major areas of the OSHA inspection. Zans said that OSHA must follow each area in sequence. “They may not skip a step or go out of order,” he emphasized. “They must tell you the nature of their visit. If they tell you exactly what they want to see, they cannot ask to see anything else, nor should you volunteer any information.”

    The four major areas are:

    1. Credential verification;

    2. Opening conference;

    3. Inspection tour; and

    4. Closing conference.

    “Demonstrate good faith during the visit,” Zans said. “Practice the ‘Three Ps’ — be professional, polite, and prepared. And don’t request a warrant; it signals an adversarial relationship.”

    He suggested that businesses try and get the highest management level involved in the inspection, including the safety and health manager, the maintenance supervisor, and at least two “regular” employees.

    “Lay a foundation with a simple greeting such as, ‘I’ll round up the people responsible to meet you — it may take time to get the team together.’ Politeness usually wins out.”

    Zans said that OSHA is entitled to ask for a one-on-one interview with any employee. And the employee can’t refuse, nor can that employee be accompanied by an attorney, unions steward, manager, etc.

    He added that “a lack of effective employee communication involving hazardous conditions is the most common thing cited by OSHA.”

    Once the inspection is complete, Zans said that OSHA “must tell you what they have found and what needs to be done.”

    After hearing the findings, “Overwhelm the inspectors with questions on how to fix the problem,” suggested Zans. “Never pay a fine on its face value; utilize your right to appeal.”

    THE APPEAL

    Zans added that fines go toward paying the national debt, so “unless you are patriotic and want to reduce the debt, use the appeal process.”

    He said that in many cases, businesses will get an immediate 25% reduction in the fine if they show good faith, another 10% if a meeting is scheduled, and as much as 60% if the meeting is successful.

    But Zans advised against letting a judge intervene in the appeal. “Judges are unlikely to overturn or reduce a fine because it would appear that they are questioning the legality of the standard,” he said.

    Sidebar: The Keys To Meeting Training Requirements

    ANN ARBOR, MI — Ken Zans said it succinctly: “OSHA requires training!”

    He was referring to the OSHA training requirements for knowing and understanding workplace hazards. His training materials listed the following standard requirements:

  • Employees must be informed of and trained on the safety and health program;

  • Employees exposed to a hazard must receive information and training on that hazard, including what the hazard is, how to recognize the hazard, what is being done to control the hazard, protective measures that should be followed, and provisions of the applicable standard.

    Zans stressed that some training topics are mandatory for new employee orientation. He said that OSHA identifies a seven-step method for training new and current employees. The steps are:

    1. Determine if training is needed.

    2. Identify training needs.

    3. Identify goals and objectives.

    4. Develop learning activities.

    5. Conduct the training.

    6. Evaluate program effectiveness.

    7. Improve the program as necessary.

    According to Zans, there are three types of employees — primary, collateral, and incidental — and each must complete training to meet OSHA standards.

    Primary employees are those that have direct exposure to the hazard, which requires specific documentation of training. Collateral employees are those employees who work near a hazard or work with a hazard as a secondary part of their job, which also requires specific documentation of training. All other employees who should have awareness of workplace hazards are classified as incidental; these employees usually do not require specific documentation of training.

    “Some companies treat every employee as an affected (primary), and they all get the same training,” said Zans. “OSHA says that if training is not documented, it did not occur.”

    — John R. Hall

    Publicaiton date: 08/12/2002

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