No matter how safe your workplace may be, it is best practice to be prepared for an OSHA inspection. Any delay and confusion when an inspector arrives can be used as evidence of culpability, and misunderstanding about what the inspector can and cannot do can subject you to liability, according to officials at Hogan Lovells, a global legal practice (www.hoganlovells.com).
An inspection typically comes without advance notice, they point out. Being prepared to cooperate with the inspector will make the inspection go as quickly and smoothly as possible.
The officials advise making someone, preferably a safety professional, responsible for OSHA inspections. This person should:
- Be familiar with OSHA regulations governing vehicle maintenance and repair shops, and with the rules governing inspections.
- Regularly tour the workplace to identify potential problems and identify supervisors who will be able to answer the inspector’s questions.
- Discuss with supervisors the importance of regularly enforcing all health and safety rules.
- Know where the health and safety records required by OSHA are and ensure that they are kept up-to-date.
- Identify any areas of confidential and proprietary information.
- Identify the employee representative - someone selected by the employees, not the employer – who will also accompany the inspector and compile a list of other persons, including senior management and the company’s counsel, who should be called as soon as an inspector arrives.
THE INSPECTION PROCEDURE
An OSHA inspection begins with an opening conference wherein the inspector will explain the purpose and scope of the visit and what triggered it, the standards that apply and what documents he wishes to review.
Following this, comes the inspection tour, where the inspector, accompanied by the company tour guide and any other employer representatives, walk around the workplace to examine actual working conditions and evaluate compliance with OSHA standards.
The route and duration of the inspection are determined by the inspector, J.J. Keller officials note. An inspection tour may cover part or all of an establishment, even if the inspection resulted from a specific complaint, fatality or catastrophe.
When the inspection is complete, the inspector will conduct a closing conference. That is the time for a discussion of problems and needs, they explain. The inspector will describe any unsafe or unhealthful conditions observed and indicate all apparent violations found and how and when they should be corrected. He will also note those for which a citation may be issued or recommended.
The inspector will not indicate any specific proposed penalties. Only the OSHA area director has that authority.
The citation with penalties and abatement dates are sent by certified mail from the OSHA area office. Penalties are assessed based on the degree of severity of a potential injury and the probability the injury will occur.
If a citation is received, it must be promptly posted at or near the place in which the violation occurred. The citation must remain there for three days or until the violation is abated, whichever is longer.
Citations are classified as “willful,” “repeated,” “serious” or “other-than-serious,” explain BLR officials. Each citation is broken down to alleged violations of particular standards. The basic OSHA standard will be quoted, and the location and other particulars of the alleged violation will be described.
Abatement dates will be listed for each standard item and the proposed penalty (if any) will also be listed.
Citations can be contested by submitting a written Notice of Contest within 15 working days after receipt of the citation and notice of penalty. Modification of abatement dates can also be petitioned. After a Notice of Contest is filled, the case is officially in litigation.
There are other consequences beside citations and penalties for those companies found to be out of compliance during an OSHA inspection. For one thing, OSHA violations are publicly available and can create a poor company image.
For employees, non-compliance shows that their workplace is not necessarily safe and that management is not actively involved with safety. This may create distrust and anxiety amongst the workforce and may spark additional complaints.