Occupational health and safety management is a priority for all companies, with many safety managers working around the clock to maintain stringent safety standards that aim to eliminate potentially dangerous accidents from occurring within the workplace. While the health and wellbeing of employees is the main reason for safety managers to enforce health and safety standards there is another, compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA ensures that companies comply with their standards and regulations by conducting inspections. These visits from OSHA are often fear for many companies however this does not need to be the case, preparation and adherence to the guidelines can ensure a smooth inspection for all the parties involved.
It is worth noting that companies do have the right to refuse an inspection. This often results in OSHA obtaining a search warrant if they do not already have one. Bear in mind that refusing to grant an OSHA inspector access to conduct an inspection does arouse a lot of suspicions.
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What to expect?
Due to the number of inspections OSHA takes on annually, it is not uncommon for inspections to be conducted without prior notice, except under special circumstances such as an inspection occurring outside of the company’s regular operating hours. Therefore it is of vital importance that a company is always ready.
OSHA inspections will start with the opening conference, this will include the arrival of a safety inspector. They will then introduce themselves and provide their badge that identifies the inspector as a genuine OSHA representative.
The inspector will go over the reason for their visit. The companies representatives will then be briefed on their rights in the case of a citation and how they may respond. The details of the inspection will be explained with the inspector often asking for the following information:
- The type of work performed within the company.
- The number of staff employed by the company.
The second stage is the walk around, this varies as an inspector may start by conducting interviews with employees or assess the machinery and equipment.
The third stage is the closing conference. A summary of the inspection will be provided with potential violations and hazards highlighted, these can also result in the company potentially receiving a citation.
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How to prepare accordingly?
Companies must ensure they have a competent occupational health and safety manager in place as well as an employee appointed representative. These will be the representatives who will be engaging with the OSHA inspector. It is highly advisable that the manager chosen is well versed in the OSHA standards that are applicable to the company. An understanding of the company’s records is also advantageous, occupational health and safety applications are becoming increasingly popular among organizations for this reason. These software solutions assist in streamlining incident reporting that is in line with OSHA standards, allowing for employees to effectively leverage the information for safety and compliance purposes.
It is favorable for the manager to have access to and be well versed in the following information in order to present it to the inspector.
- Training and safety programs.
- Injury and illness logbook that is at least 3 years old.
- Protective equipment documentation
- Emergency action plan.
- Hazard communication plan.
The information can be stored within a cloud-based health and safety solution platform or through logbooks for convenience.
The walkaround inspection is the most critical phase of the inspection. During this phase, it would be advantageous to have the employee chosen representative present to clarify any health measures in place for the processes that take place as these representatives will have the first-hand experience.
Inspections are known for being meticulous however a company has the right to be provided with a reason for specific reviews if they seem unrelated to the relevant processes.
During the walkaround, OSHA inspectors will conduct measurements on a number of variables that employees could be exposed to. In order to avoid a violation, companies can recruit the expertise of a safety consultant, prior to an inspection, to conduct accurate measurements on noise levels, dust levels, and the temperature ranges employees are exposed to, this will help a company remain certain that they are providing a safe environment for their employees. It would be beneficial for a company to conduct these measurements on a regular basis.
Employees interviews are conducted during the walkaround, OSHA provides employees with the right to speak to the inspectors privately, during this period it is both unadvisable and unethical to persuade the employees in any way whatsoever.
The third and final part of a safety inspection is the closing conference. Potential safety hazards and violations will be discussed during this phase. If a citation is received it is advisable to ask as many questions as possible and gain clarity on the reason behind why.
The citation can be appealed in cases where the company does not agree with the result. The appeal must be initiated within 15 days of receiving the citation. It would be to the company’s benefit to appeal the citation, violation penalty, and abatement period rather than a specific point.
While a company may find the inspection to be an annoyance it is worth keeping in mind that both the company and OSHA are conducting these activities to ensure the safety of its employees.