Step #1: Identify
Ask the inspector for his/her business credentials (photo identification with a serial number), business card, and the reason for the visit. If the reason is an employee complaint then request a copy of the complaint that was made to the OSHA office.
Step #2: Notify
Ask the inspector to please wait so that you can bring him/her your business card. Also let him/her know that he/she will need to wait for a bit because you need to make arrangements for someone to take over your immediate work duties so that you are available to spend time with the inspector. While he/she is waiting you should contact your safety consultant, and at that point a decision should be made if your consultant should head up your way. In case of an extreme situation, if you really need the extra time for your safety and other representatives to arrive on site, or if the inspector is unwilling to inform you of the reason and scope of the visit, you can ask the inspector for a warrant. NOTE that the OSHA inspector should wait for your consultant and other representative to arrive on site for a period not to exceed 1 hour.
Step #3: Opening Conference
- In the opening conference you will learn why your facility is being inspected, the scope of the inspections, and the OSHA standards that are likely to apply.
- Make sure that you fully understand the reasons your facility is being inspected, as you may have different rights based on the reasons (i.e. Is it an employee complaint, programmed inspection, or a follow-up inspection).
Step #4: Inspection Walkthrough
- Have an informed and knowledgeable person escort the inspector through the facility at all times. DO NOT let the inspector roam by him/herself!
- List all instruments the inspector uses, who he/she speaks to, and what photos are taken. In fact, if possible, perform the same activities that the inspector does. Take a photo of what he/she does, take notes when he/she does, and perform the same air sampling or monitoring that the inspector does.
- The inspector will most likely interview employees about safety equipment in the workplace, processes and procedures, and about required safety training. Do not interfere with the interviews.The inspector is also very likely to check for required postings and perform a Logs and Records Review on OSHA 300 logs, basic safety & health programs, training procedures, etc.
Step #5: Closing Conference
- Do not let the OSHA inspector leave without conducting a closing conference.
- Take detailed notes of all that is discussed.
- The inspector will inform you of the items that he/she observed during the inspection, and apparent violations that may be cited. The inspector will also describe abatement requirements and suggested abatement time that the violations should be rectified by.
- Be careful about agreeing with what the inspector says regarding apparent violations, as admissions of guilt could be damaging during your appeal process.
- NOTE that an OSHA inspector will NEVER request any fine payments during the inspection. In fact, the inspector is not the person who decides what fines are to be allocated; the Area Director decides fine amounts.
OSHA Sent Me a Citation Letter…Now What?
NOTE: All citations must be issued within 6 months of the start of the inspection. Once you received the citation letter you must post a copy at the work area that was inspected until the violations have been abated or for 3 working days, whichever is longer. After you have received the citation letter, and posted it in the work area, you have the following options going forward:
1) Informal Conference
- Always schedule an Informal Conference within the 15 working day window from the date you received the citation, if you want to contest any of the violations. If you miss that 15 working day window you miss your opportunity to request the informal conference.
- If you need an extension for the conference, submit your request in writing and with a good reason.
- In the Informal Conference, your attitude should show a team effort for fixing any problems and improving the safety culture from the top down at your facility.
- It could definitely help your case if abatement actions and procedures are presented to the OSHA representative(s) at the Informal Conference to demonstrate a positive attitude for change and advancement.
- At the end of the Informal Conference OSHA should revise some or all of your fines and/or abatement dates. But, always try and negotiate hem lower.
2) Notice of Contest
- If you are still unsatisfied with the citation, it may be time to file a “Notice of Contest (NOC).” The NOC demonstrates that you are still contesting the violation, proposed penalties, abatement deadlines, or all three.
- Filling an NOC stops the abatement requirements and deadlines until the case is settled.
- NOTE that filing an NOC means that this case may end up in court, so your attorneys should be notified.
Once everything is settled, fines are paid, and the inspection is behind you, be aware that OSHA could return for another visit at any time. In order to prevent re-occurrences and the potential for willful and repeat violations (which come with much higher fines), it may be a good idea to begin an inspection program and/or have a 3rd party conduct mock OSHA inspections, including photos, descriptions, and corrective action recommendations.
If you follow the steps outlined above, you will be prepared for a surprise OSHA inspection and emerge from it ready to improve your facility’s safety culture and practices and keep your employees safe.