Would Your Shop Pass An OSHA Inspection?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation. It is authorized to conduct workplace inspections to determine if companies are complying with its standards for safe and healthy workplaces.It should be noted that OSHA inspections can happen at any time at any workplace covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Because of the enormous number of such workplaces, OSHA has established a system of priorities for its inspections. These are, in order of importance:

  • Imminent danger: Any condition/situation that can be expected to cause death or serious physical harm.
  • Catastrophes and fatalities: Situations that result in fatalities or three or employees being hospitalized.
  • Employee complaints: Formal employee complaints of alleged safety and health violations or unsafe or unhealthy working conditions.
  • Programmed high-hazard inspection: Planned inspections at specific high-hazard industries and occupations.
  • Follow-up inspections: Done to ensure that previously cited violations have been corrected.

DO NOT ASSUME

If your organization has never been through an OSHA inspection, or it has been years since your last one, it is common to be somewhat lax with OSHA compliance, according to officials with Business & Legal Reports (BLR), a leading provider of compliance and training solutions in the areas of human resources, compensation, safety and environmental areas (www.blr.com). Training new employees on the rules, and refresher training for current employees, often takes a back seat to other matters.

Never assume that your employees are aware of the OSHA standards, that they follow the rules and that they would never report a potential violation or hazardous situation to OSHA, they say.

To avoid unnecessarily triggering an inspection, and to be prepared should an inspection occur, BLR officials recommend developing an effective compliance plan that incorporates five key elements:

  • Knowledge and implementation of all relevant OSHA regulations.
  • Regular communication with employees and employee representatives about working conditions and worker safety.
  • Robust and effective safety and health training programs.
  • Well communicated and consistently enforced safety rules.
  • A clear understanding of what an OSHA inspection entails.

THE MORE YOU KNOW

If you know what unsafe conditions and hazards are in your workplace, you can take measures to remedy them, say officials at J.J. Keller & Associates, the nation’s leader in risk and regulatory management solutions (www.jjkeller.com). That will help you be in compliance with OSHA standards.

Moreover, the more you know about the safety and health requirements that pertain to your company’s operation, and different ways to improve them, the better you can manage your organization in general.

Officials at both J.J. Keller and BLR stress the importance of having a designated person responsible for staying current on applicable OSHA regulations and with the rules governing inspections. They say it is a good idea for companies to design and conduct their own safety and health self-audits in order to stay in OSHA compliance and prepare for an OSHA inspection.

Safety audits also encourage and maintain employee interest in safety.

The officials further recommend regularly walking through your workplace to identify recognizable hazards and problem areas.

It is also important to make sure safety and health rules are enforced. Having posted signs that are routinely ignored, outdated or unneeded, along with having rules that are given lip service or only casually enforced, can undermine safety efforts.

Safety training should be reinforced on a regular basis, as should identifying needs for additional training, say BLR officials. Always involve workers in making the workplace safe. Heightening safety awareness pays dividends in compliance, as well as in the quality of a company’s workplace.

PLAN FOR THE UNEXPECTED

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.

OTHER OUTCOMES

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.

In summary, one good way to avoid OSHA inspections and possible citations is to not get inspected in the first place. That means practicing workplace safety each and every day.

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