DAVENPORT, Iowa - Many employers live in fear of receiving an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), since OSHA can fine businesses and even close them down for violating safety regulations. But like most fears, OSHA anxiety is based on a lack of information. Safety awareness and knowledge of OSHA regulations and the inspection process can help employers feel more secure in the event of an inspection.

"Every company's management needs to set up an up-to-date safety plan and observe OSHA regulations applicable to their industry," said Benjamin Mangan, president and founder of ManComm and American Safety Training Inc., Davenport, Iowa. These two companies work together to develop and provide OSHA compliance safety products and training for the general industry, as well as safety products for the construction industry.

"But sometimes, even companies with fine safety records receive inspections," he added, "so it is important to plan ahead for such occurrences."

What OSHA Does, And How They Do It

Basically, OSHA writes and enforces regulations that require employers to maintain conditions or adopt practices to protect workers on the job. Compliance to these regulations comes in three forms: education, consultation, and enforcement. Education means the employer learns the regulations and how to comply with them. Through consultation, the employer can request for OSHA to visit and help identify possible violations. Enforcement can arrive in the form of a worksite inspection, performed by a compliance officer authorized to cite the employer for violations.

Knowing the reasons for inspections, as well as employer rights, inspection preparation information, and inspection procedures, can prove helpful should an employer ever be faced with an inspection. The following information from the American Safety Training course, "Essentials of Safety Training I," highlights some of the many facts employers should know about OSHA inspections.

Reasons for inspections fall into four main categories:

1. Imminent danger - Conditions or practices that could reasonably be expected to cause serious physical harm or immediate death to employees.

2. Fatality/catastrophe investigations - An employee death or the hospitalization of three or more employees resulting from an accident or illness, caused by or related to a workplace hazard. Such incidents must be reported to OSHA within eight hours.

3. Complaints/referrals investigations - Notice of an alleged hazard or violation given by a past or present employee, an employee representative, a concerned citizen, or some other source.

4. Programmed inspections - These worksite inspections are scheduled based upon objective or neutral selection criteria.

Inspection Preparation

"Essentials of Safety Training I" suggests keeping an inspection kit on-hand, just in case an inspection is scheduled. The container for this kit should include:

  • Paper and pens for documentation;

  • Tape recorder for documentation, with tapes and batteries;

  • Disposable camera for documentation, with film;

  • Flashlight for nooks and crannies;

  • Tape measure for measurements;

  • Tote bag to carry inspection materials; and

  • Any other items specific to your company.

    Also, know the locations of air-quality and noise monitoring equipment. If your company does not perform these forms of monitoring, contact a subcontractor when necessary.

    "The kit should include a ‘who to call' list for when an inspector appears. Inspectors can wait up to 45 minutes for a specific company official to show up," said Mangan. "The kit should also include extra exit signs and Danger: Do Not Use tags. Be willing to fix problems on the spot, if possible."

    Inspection Procedures

    Employers should develop procedures for contact personnel to follow in the event of an inspection. The inspector should be led to a waiting area while company officials are notified of his or her arrival. If the company has a union, the representative must be permitted to be involved in the inspection.

    Employers should centralize all pertinent information, such as training documents and 300 logs for injuries and illnesses, so they can be accessed easily. Sources of confidential or propriety information should be identified to the inspector. Otherwise, the information will become public record.

    In regard to an opening conference, the inspector should explain why the establishment was selected for inspection. Employers should insist on seeing credentials, establish whether the inspector has a warrant, and determine which documents the inspector wishes to review.

    In the walkthrough inspection, the inspector, accompanied by the employee representative (if applicable) and employer representative, will proceed through the facility, inspecting work areas for potentially hazardous working conditions. The inspector should not be allowed to conduct the walkthrough alone.

    The inspector will discuss possible corrective actions with the employer representative, who should take notes on what is seen and discussed, what samples and/or pictures are taken, and what documents are reviewed.

    After the walkthrough, the OSHA inspector will discuss all hazardous conditions with the employer, indicating all citations that may be recommended. He should explain the appeal rights and procedures for contesting citations, and inform the employer of obligations regarding any citations issued. Employers should provide additional relevant information and request a receipt for any documents provided. They should not make admissions of guilt, and should not argue their case with the inspector. They should also know their Miranda Rights and keep answers to a simple "yes" or "no."

    "Ultimately, all employers want to avoid citations and costly fines, and the best defense is to be compliant with OSHA regulations," said Mangan.

    Observing regulations and maintaining a superior safety record also has other benefits.

    "When workers stay safe and healthy," said Mangan, "businesses experience lower workers' compensation costs, reduced medical expenditures, and increased productivity. A well-developed safety program is an investment that always pays off in the long run."

    For more information regarding ManComm, visit www.mancomm.com. For more information regarding American Safety Training, visit www.trainosha.com.

    Publication date: 11/21/2005