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How to Pass an OSHA Inspection

By Steve Stephenson

stock osha inspector in front of facility

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA is authorized to conduct workplace inspections to determine whether employers are complying with OSHA standards. OSHA also enforces a part of the OSHA law, known as Section 5(a)1 and called the "General Duty Clause," which requires that all employees have a safe and healthful workplace.

Preparing For An OSHA Inspection

No one should fear coming to work and getting hurt. So why do we shudder when we hear about OSHA inspections? By preparing for the possibility of an OSHA inspection we can have a safer and healthier workplace. After all, most of us want to do our jobs well and be free from danger.

Almost every day, machines squeeze, pinch and crush body parts. Falls occur from roofs and ladders. Workers are hit by moving objects. Excessive noise causes hearing loss. Motor vehicles injure or kill workers. Even slips and trips on flat surfaces may be fatal. The annual list of work-related injuries is long and frightening.

Look at an OSHA inspection not as an adversarial situation, but as a way to improve safety.

Who & What Does OSHA Typically Inspect?

Generally, OSHA inspections concentrate on the most hazardous sites found in the workplace. Complaints from employees and referrals from agencies, organizations or the media also receive elevated attention.

Workplaces with ten or fewer employees are exempt from random inspections by federal OSHA officials. While state laws may empower local inspectors to randomly inspect smaller businesses, small insurance agencies, retail stores, computer repair shops and similar low-injury business are rarely targeted.

Who Are Likely OSHA Inspection Targets?

All fatalities and serious injuries must be reported to OSHA. Based on this data, those industries that have high risk jobs are prioritized for OSHA inspections. Construction worksites, for example, are more likely to be inspected.

You shouldn't need the threat of an OSHA inspection to find ways to improve safety. Going through the process of preparing your workplace for an OSHA inspection will help reduce accident rates, even if OSHA is not planning to inspect your workplace.

There are many resources available help you prepare for a possible OSHA inspection. Training software, consultants and other supportive products and services are all widely available.

“Have your records and program documentation in order,” stressed Burl Finkelstein, Kason Industries. “A well documented compliance /safety program is a lifesaver for both the management and its employees.”

Finkelstein recommends creating an internal safety inspector position as a way to identify potential safety problems. This also helps you to be prepared for an OSHA inspection. He advises companies to organize weekly meetings with appropriate staff and to conduct inspections using in-house staff once a month. These inspections, he said, should note items of concern and the remedies. Everything should be documented. Consider this a practice OSHA inspection, he added.

On often overlooked safety area are labels and signs. Graphic Products has created an OSHA Health & Safety Label and Sign inspection checklist that addresses sign legibility, location, color and proper messaging.

What To Do When The OSHA Inspector Arrives

OSHA often conducts inspections without advance notice. However, employers have the right to require compliance officers to obtain an inspection warrant before entering the worksite. There are special circumstances when OSHA may give notice to the employer, but that notice will normally be less than 24 hours.

You should have a person designed who can be called to immediately greet the inspector and review their credentials. You should also have a designated inspection team that can be quickly assembled.

The first thing you should expect is for the compliance officer to present their credentials, which includes both a photograph and a serial number. Always verify the credentials by calling the nearest federal or state OSHA office.

OSHA inspectors may not collect a penalty at the time of the inspection nor promote the sale of a product or service at any time. Anyone who attempts to do so is impersonating a government inspector and the employer should contact the FBI or local law enforcement officials immediately.

Recordkeeping Is Important

An OSHA inspection will place an emphasis on OSHA's posting and record keeping requirements. The compliance officer will want to see the records of deaths, injuries, and illnesses that you are required to keep. They will check to see that a copy of the totals from the last page of OSHA Form Number 300 are posted as required and that the OSHA workplace poster (OSHA 3165), which explains employees' safety and health rights, is prominently displayed. Where records of employee exposure to toxic substances and harmful physical agents are required, the compliance officer will examine them for compliance with the record keeping requirements. The compliance officer will also request a copy of your employer's Hazard Communication Program.

OSHA regulations require most employers with 10 or more full-time employees to keep a yearly log of all work-related injuries and illnesses. This is the OSHA Log of Injuries and Illnesses, also known as the OSHA Form 300.

OSHA required recordkeeping includes:

  • Maintain injury/illness records for the past five years
  • A written hazard communication program
  • Emergency preparedness and evacuation procedures
  • Written lockout/tag out (LO/TO) programs
  • Respirator programs
  • Exposure and medical records
  • Material safety data sheets (MSDS)
  • Blood borne pathogen training documentation

Have your training documents in order. You can expect the OSHA inspection will want to see them. If you have employees who speak different languages, make sure you have documentation that they understand your safety training.

These documents should only be provided to the inspector when specifically requested by the inspector. During an OSHA inspection never give the inspector any information or documentation they have not specifically requested. Before an OSHA inspection happens you should designate one person who will is familiar with these records and who will provide them to the OSHA inspector.

The Three Phases of an OSHA Inspection

An OSHA inspection consists of three stages - an opening conference, a facility walk-through and a closing conference.

Greet the inspector and check their credentials. Confirm the reason for the inspection. Is it due to an employee complaint or is it a programmed inspection? Answer the OSHA inspector's questions truthfully. If you’re unsure about something, it’s okay to say, “I’ll check the facts and get back to you.”

Keep in mind that trying to delay an OSHA inspector until a more convenient date will raise suspicions and increase the likelihood of a more comprehensive inspection when they return.

Opening Conference

During the opening conference the inspector will explain the purpose of the inspection. If applicable, the inspector will provide copies of the complaints that triggered the inspection. The inspector will also outline the scope of the inspection, which may include interviews with employees. Employees have the right to request that interviews to be private or conducted with managers present.

Facility Walk-Through

After the opening conference the OSHA inspector will walk through the facility, taking notes and photographs. Management should have at least one representative accompany the inspector. OSHA requires that employees - whether or not they have union representation - have an opportunity to select an employee representative for the inspection. However, an OSHA inspection does not need to include an employee representative unless employees have requested to be included. If there is no authorized employee representative, the compliance officer will talk with employees during the OSHA inspection.

The management representative(s) should note and record everything the OSHA inspector notes and records. All conversations during the OSHA inspection should be documented. If the inspector takes photographs, then the management representative should duplicate these photographs with their own camera. Document everything the OSHA compliance officer inspects, notes or photographs. The compliance officer may make video recordings; record instrument readings; examine records; collect air samples; measures noise levels; survey existing engineering controls; and monitor employee exposure to toxic fumes, gases, and dusts. The management representative should duplicate everything the compliance officer does or notes. Do not assume anything is unimportant. Document everything that happens during an OSHA inspection.

The inspection may cover part or all of your facility, even if the inspection resulted from a specific complaint, fatality or accident. An OSHA inspection is not limited to any one area. If the compliance officer finds a violation in open view, they may ask permission to expand the inspection.

Closing Conference

Following the walk-through, the OSHA officer should conduct a closing conference with key company representatives. The inspector should share information about violations they found and observed unsafe situations.

If possible, correct any deficiencies the inspector notes before he leaves the building. Review the inspection with the team. Correct deficiencies noted by the inspector. Draft a follow up letter to the inspector addressing his concerns.

If there is to be a citation, it will be issued within six months of the inspection by the local Area Director. The employer then must follow the instructions included with the citation, including posting the citation in a prominent workplace location. Employers may elect to contest citations or penalties.

OSHA Inspections - Be Prepared

While the likelihood of an OSHA inspection is low for most businesses, being aware of what happens during an OSHA inspection, and preparing for it, will help you have a safer workplace. Be prepared by having an in-house DuraLabel label and sign printer. Not only is it the economical way to make the labels and signs you need, it allows you to immediately address safety concerns. With DuraLabel printers you get printers that are fast and easy-to-use. The result is quality labels and signs that last a long time - and the only vinyl labels and signs that have a five-year warranty. Call us today and ask about the special DuraLabel safety labeling kits.

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