FAQs About OSHA Inspections

Because the possible results of an OSHA compliance inspection may include financial penalties, many look upon OSHA as the enemy or, at best, an unpleasant acquaintance, and hope to never hear from it. The truth is that OSHA’s goal is the same as yours—a safe work-place for all of your staff. If you request OSHA to visit your facility on a consultative basis they will come and identify all the hazards without the assessment of any fines. You will have to correct the deficiencies that they identify in a timely manner, but a compliance inspection would result in correcting the deficiencies and paying the fines.

What triggers an OSHA compliance inspection?
OSHA’s visit may be for one of many reasons:

  • Imminent danger: this category is the highest priority of OSHA inspection – it will be conducted within 24 hours of an allegation unless there are extraordinary circumstances
  • Fatality or catastrophe: this type of visit will follow an incident that results in one or more fatalities, three or more employees being hospitalized for more than 24 hours, or significant publicity
  • Employee or ex-employee complaint: a signed complaint will virtually always result in an OSHA inspection; an unsigned complaint may result in an inspection or only in a letter, but the letter is one that will require a response. An inspection of this type may be limited to the specific items and/or area(s) cited in the complaint
  • Programmed inspection: this is a routine visit based on OSHA priorities and/or targeted hazards
  • Follow-up inspections: if violations were found in an earlier inspection, OSHA may re-inspect to verify abatement of the violations

If an OSHA inspector arrives unannounced at an inconvenient time, do we have any options?

Yes. You have the right to deny the inspector access at the time of the initial visit if you so choose. It would be a wise course of action if either your management representative or the only person familiar with all the details of your safety policies and procedures happen to be unavailable. You can request that the inspector obtain an inspection warrant and return at a later time.

An inspection warrant is an administrative warrant, not a criminal one. It is not considered adversarial to deny access in the absence of a warrant – and it may retain some rights that may be lost by granting a voluntary inspection. Requiring a warrant allows you to have the necessary people available for the inspection that will be conducted some time during the following 30 days.

Some people feel that requesting a warrant (i.e., not allowing the inspector access when he or she arrives unannounced) will antagonize the inspector and may result in harsher treatment when the inspection does occur. That supposition should be invalid but there are some variables that may influence the outcome. Some you can control – how courteously you treat the inspector, whether you provide a realistic reason why the present time is inappropriate, etc. Some you cannot control, such as the disposition or demeanor of the inspector.

What documents will the inspector want to review?

Primary documents the inspector will want to review include:

  • OSHA 300 log (for the previous five years)
  • Hazard Communication Program
    • Hazardous Chemical Log
    • Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
    • Training protocols and logs
  • Blood-borne Pathogen Prevention Program
    • Exposure Control Plan
    • Sharps Injury Log
    • Hepatitis B Vaccine Declination Form
    • Training protocols and logs
  • Lock-out/Tag-out Program
    • Facility Survey of Need
    • Protocols / Marking Devices
    • Compliance Checklist
    • Annual Inspection Checklist
    • Activity Log
  • Injury and Illness Prevention Plan
  • Medical Records protocols

Other documents the inspector may want to include:

  • Fire and Other Emergency Action Plans
  • Respiratory Protection Plan (or documentation of why it is unnecessary)
  • Hearing Conservation Plan (or documentation of why it is unnecessary)
  • Confined Space Protocols (or documentation of why they are unnecessary)

What will the inspector want to accomplish besides looking at our documentation?

What the inspector wants to accomplish depends partly on the type of inspection. The two types are:

  • A non-programmed visit
    • may be solely restricted to the incident or complaint that triggered the inspection
    • because of the above, you should provide only the specifically requested documentation, take the least revealing route to the requested area, and volunteer no ancillary information because once on site the inspector is free to investigate anything that he or she sees or that you discuss
  • A programmed visit
    • conveys the right to go virtually anywhere and see basically everything, but does not grant permission to wander unaccompanied
    • includes the right to interview employees without management present – you should advise
      • employees to answer all questions truthfully but to volunteer no information
      • employees to make no speculations
      • employees that they can request someone be present with them or that they can refuse to be interviewed
      • that no interview should exceed 10 minutes

What should we do to prepare for a possible OSHA inspection?

There are several ways you can prepare in advance for an OSHA inspection. These include:

  • Being in compliance with all aspects of the statute (29 CFR 29, Part 1910) to the best of your ability
  • Keeping all mandated training current and well documented
  • Maintaining the documents that might be needed for an OSHA inspection – keeping them current and readily accessible
  • Maintaining good housekeeping throughout the facility
  • Understanding your rights under the law and knowing what to expect of the inspector
  • Establishing and communicating protocols to your front desk staff that designates a specific person to meet with the inspector – this OSHA liaison should be someone who is routinely on-site
  • Creating an OSHA inspection team – it should include:
    • Someone thoroughly knowledgeable in the safety and health policies and protocols of the organization (this person’s direct involvement is critical during any OSHA inspection)
    • A member of upper management – for a small organization this should be the CEO or COO; for multiple facility operations a center manager is sufficient; (this individual and the one first noted can be the same person)
    • A recorder – one whose sole task during the visit is to thoroughly document all of the inspector’s comments and concerns, duplicate any photographs taken, and take additional photos if such will help explain why that which is depicted should not be considered a violation
    • A keeper of the documents who controls access to and ensures that all necessary documents are available and current (this person can be one of the above or someone else; if the latter, this person does not need to accompany the inspection tour)

What should we do if an OSHA inspector arrives at our facility unannounced?

If an OSHA inspector arrives unannounced and asks to inspect your facility you should:

  • Not panic – you don’t have to drop everything just because an inspector appears. Have the inspector wait in a controlled space for your manager or your OSHA liaison or representative (45 to 60 minutes is permissible, less is better)
  • Have your management representative or OSHA liaison politely request to examine the inspector’s credentials
  • Request an opening conference to determine:
    • The reason for the inspection – if because of a complaint or allegation of imminent danger ask to see the complaint or documentation
    • The extent of and any limits to the inspection
    • The approximate amount of time that the inspection will take
    • The specifics of how the inspector will conduct the inspection
  • Determine if allowing a voluntary inspection is in the organization’s best interests or if an administrative warrant should be requested – e.g., because the management representative or the individual best equipped to address the specifics of the safety and health policy and protocols is unavailable

Are there specific things we should do during the inspection process?

When you elect to submit to a voluntary inspection on the inspector’s first visit, or when the inspector returns to perform the warranted inspection you should:

  • Hold an opening conference (these items should be appended to the opening interview described above if granting a voluntary inspection at the initial visit) that:
    • Introduces the inspection team
    • Explains the organization’s document procedures
    • Reviews the inspection’s extent and scope
  • Answer all questions completely and honestly but do not volunteer additional information
  • Document any oral comment or question made by the inspector as close to verbatim as possible
  • Whenever the inspector makes notes, ask what has been seen and record the potential deficiency; note if there is any reason why it should not be so considered for discussion in the closing interview
  • Photograph anything that the inspector photographs – if you feel additional information or detail will aid your case, photograph additional views or angles
  • Accompany the inspector everywhere – do not permit unaccompanied wandering
  • Correct any deficiency before the inspector leaves, if possible – if you notice a deficiency that can be easily corrected, do so immediately even if the inspector does not comment on it
  • Remember (and follow) the FOUR DON’Ts:
    • Don’t be pressured. If a question is asked or a document requested that makes you unsure or uncomfortable, stop and take the time to consult a superior – or your attorney
    • Don’t feel that you must provide an instant response – you don’t
    • Don’t argue about whether something is or is not a violation – but clearly understand each alleged violation and how to rectify it
    • Don’t volunteer or admit noncompliance
  • Insist on a closing conference (depending on timing and the length of the inspection, this may be at a later date; however, it is crucial especially if there will be any citations)
    • This meeting should include a management representative and your most knowledgeable OSHA person; if citations are anticipated with regard to any documentation, the responsible person should also be in attendance
    • Take comprehensive notes
    • Ask the inspector to specify any citations that will be made and explain how they will be characterized
    • If appropriate, explain why an apparent deficiency should not deserve a formal citation
    • If the inspector asks when abatement of an item can be expected, make no commitments regarding time needed for completion

What do we need to do after the inspection is over?

When the inspector leaves is when the work really begins. You should:

  • Review the inspection and all the inspector’s comments with the team – if upper management is not part of the inspection team then a full report should be prepared and discussed with them
  • Correct any deficiencies noted by the inspector. If due-by dates were provided, be sure to complete any work before the required time (a follow-up inspection may be ordered to verify compliance – the fines generated from follow-up inspections may be up to ten times the original amount)
  • Prepare and send the inspector a follow-up letter addressing his or her concerns. This is a very important document – make sure it is complete, accurate, and timely