Since the passing of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has reserved the right to perform occasional workplace inspections. These surprise examinations allow them to observe the happenings in a given workplace and ultimately ensure that employers are complying with safety regulations. After all, under this same act, employees are entitled to a safe and healthy environment in which to accomplish their job responsibilities. For this reason, it’s important that businesses are not only conscious of following safety regulations but are also aware of what to expect during one of these reviews. These are the phases of an OSHA inspection and how each of them helps ensure safety compliance.
Before an official OSHA inspection can begin, the organization first determines which businesses are in most need of the inspector’s time. What’s important to remember is that, though most businesses can expect at least a yearly visit, OSHA tends to prioritize workplaces that already pose a risk. As such, places that have recorded employee complaints, serious past accidents, or referrals will typically be visited before other businesses. It’s for this same reason as well that OSHA inspections are typically a surprise to the business being tested until the inspector arrives. In fact, it’s actually against the law for OSHA to notify a business of when they’ll be inspected because doing so will bring the authenticity of workplace conditions into question. So, businesses generally need to be prepared for a surprise OSHA inspection at all times.
It’s also important to mention that the inspector will also be conducting research on your business’s inspection history, industry, and the types of potential issues to be on the lookout for. This is so that they will have a good understanding of your basic business practices and what safety regulations you should have in place. Their research will also let them know what pieces of equipment will need the most attention and what constitutes a safety hazard.
The Opening Conference
Once a business is chosen for that day’s inspection, the inspector will drive out to the location unannounced. They’ll always enter through the business entrance and identify themselves immediately as the designated OSHA employee. It’s during this time that a management representative should be available to meet them and begin the initial discussion. This conference gives the inspector the opportunity to educate the manager on the overall inspection process, why the inspection was initiated, and request documents pertaining to safety programs. It’s the manager’s responsibility to provide them with whatever paperwork they’ll need for the inspection. This meeting also provides the manager with the chance to dispute the need of the inspection entirely and state a case for cancelation.
If everything continues to go on as planned, the next phase of an OSHA inspection involves the inspector taking a walk around the facility. This allows them to observe the overall conditions of the workplace and make note of how certain processes are performed. As such, they’ll be frequently referring to the safety regulations provided to them and monitoring how well they coincide with what they’re observing. During this walk-through, they’ll also be taking photographs of anything they think is in violation or poses a potential danger to those in the vicinity. This could be damaged equipment, unorganized sections of the location, or even unsanitary parts of the work environment. To acquire additional information, the OSHA inspector may also spend some time interviewing employees without the manager present.
The Closing Conference
After gathering as much information as they can, the OSHA inspector will then call for a closing meeting to answer any final questions. They’ll generally give a detailed overview of their findings and give the manager hints to what they’ll potentially be cited for. This conference gives the business the chance to take note of the problems they’ll have to fix so they can begin making the necessary adjustments. It’s also important to know that just because the inspector brings something to the manager’s attention, it doesn’t automatically mean that the business will be cited for that particular issue. However, if they still take the time to talk about it, it’s probably something that should be addressed anyway.
Citation and Abatement
From the time the OSHA inspector finishes up their examination and leaves the premises, they have six months to provide the business with a written citation. In this citation, the employer will be given a detailed list of safety hazards discovered by the inspector and what should be done to correct them. The requirements for a citation can range in severity and require different levels of work depending on how pressing the issue is. Additionally, the citation will provide an abatement period that informs the business on how long they have to get these dangers up to code. During the abatement period, the business also needs to produce a report with proof that the changes were made.
Informal Conference and Settlement
If the business decides that they want to oppose OSHA’s rulings and fines, the first step of the process is to schedule an informal hearing. This meeting occurs between all individuals involved in the initial inspection as well as the OSHA inspector’s direct supervisor. During the conference, they’ll go over the results of the first inspection and allow the business to present new evidence to the report. Depending on the evidence, the conference could result in a settlement in the form of reduced fines or a reduction of violations.
However, if no agreement can be reached, it may be necessary to take the issue to a formal court hearing. Both parties will appear before an administrative judge to make their case regarding the inspection and its findings. If the business feels as though OSHA broke laws during the inspection, this is also the time to make those concerns known. While these measures are very rare, the decisions made during an official summons are final. So, if the judge rules that the inspection was unfair, the business could be relieved of accountability.
Safety is key to us at Midwest Unlimited. From the products we sell to the information we provide, everything we do is to help our customers stay as safe as possible when doing their jobs. This is why we ensure that each of our tower climber and lineman harnesses are in strict compliance with OSHA fall protection standards. This way, there’s little guesswork involved in determining the safety of our products and the proper time to replace them.