It’s common for businesses to dread a visit by OSHA inspectors. While there is the fear that problems will be uncovered and fines might be assessed, it’s important to remember that OSHA exists to protect both your company and your employees. It’s best in all cases to work with them rather than against them. Here are tips for what to do before an OSHA visit to make the experience go smoothly for everyone involved.
In 2019, the most recent year for which we have statistics, OSHA carried out 33,393 inspections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 45%, or 14,900 OSHA inspections in 2019 were programmed, that is, the company knew that OSHA was coming. But in the majority of inspections, 18,493 of them, the company being inspected had no advanced warning at all that the OSHA inspector was on the way.
Why does OSHA send out inspectors without any warning? The statistics say that for 2019, non-preprogrammed OSHA inspections were triggered:
- By an employee's death in 919 cases.
- On a referral from another state or federal agency in 6,718 cases.
- And because an employee of the company filed a complaint in 7,391 cases.
You can do your part to make sure the inspection goes well by following a few important guidelines.
Know the Rules
It's essential to remember that ignorance of the rules is no excuse. In fact, in a way, ignorance of OSHA rules is itself a violation.
Since 2015, many companies have had OSHA reporting obligations that they hadn't had before. The regulations have been modified over the six years since, but the general principles are:
- Executives who willfully violate safety and health standards can be referred for criminal prosecution. This includes incidents that give the appearance of gross negligence by executive staff.
- Any executive who has prior knowledge of an OSHA violation and fails to report it can be cited and fined.
- The fines for negligence resulting in loss of life can be as much as $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for companies.
Develop an Ongoing Pre-Inspection Protocol
In the medical world, prevention is the best medicine. That same philosophy is absolutely true with OSHA. Start by coaching employees to take OSHA rules seriously. Do what you can to prevent OSHA's interest in your company. Your company may still have to deal with OSHA's programmed inspections, but prevention is the best approach for every OSHA inspection.
To be as prepared as possible, appoint an OSHA safety team made up of representatives from all levels of your company who can monitor the rules, note any changes and make sure your company is up to par. Require them to meet on a regular basis and report their findings to leadership, along with a plan for making changes. They can be the team accountable to leadership for ensuring policies are enforced, hazards are corrected, and record-keeping is accurate and current.
Most importantly, take the fear out of an unplanned OSHA visit. Conduct regular “surprise” self-audits to check your compliance.
- Make sure you are performing regular skills trainings for employees on safety standards and protocols.
- Make sure information about employee rights is properly posted
- Make sure job hazard assessments are up to date
- Make sure records are up to date for workers compensation files, training records, insurance, and any 3rd party audit information.
At Winter-Dent, our experts help make sure you have the processes in place and coverage needed to protect you, your business and your employees. As a reference, please feel free to download this step-by-step inspection guide from OSHA. And call us with questions. We’re here to help.
Be sure to check out the 2nd blog in this series, "OSHA Inspections: The Inspectors Are Here - What Do I Do Next?"