OSHA Inspection Do’s and Don’ts

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) doesn’t usually call ahead of an inspection. For this reason, employers must always be prepared for a knock on the door. Here are some do’s and don’ts for protecting your company’s interests during an OSHA inspection.

Before the Inspection

Do: When it comes to OSHA inspections, the best offense is a good defense. Performing regular self-audits to make sure you are in compliance with all OSHA standards and having all compliance documents up-to-date and readily available will help put you on solid footing for an inspection.

Do: Appoint a member of your management team to serve as your company’s OSHA representative, who will be responsible for accompanying OSHA throughout the inspection. Designate a second management team member to serve as a deputy OSHA representative, in case the first person is not available. Both individuals must be experts in your company’s health and safety program and trained to best represent your interests during an inspection.

Do: Make sure OSHA’s employee rights poster is prominently displayed in an area where workers gather, such as a break room.

Do: Have an inspection action plan in place, ready to be activated when the OSHA inspector shows up.

Once OSHA Arrives

Don’t be rude or try to obstruct the OSHA inspector from doing his or her job. While you have a right to demand that OSHA get a warrant to search your workplace, it’s generally advisable not to do so. OSHA may interpret the demand as a hostile act that shows you have something to hide, and it may prompt the agency to do a broader inspection once it returns with the warrant.

Do: If your appointed OSHA representative is not on-site when the OSHA compliance officer comes calling, you can request that the officer wait a reasonable amount of time, such as up to an hour, for your representative to arrive.

Do: An OSHA inspection begins with an opening conference, during which you can dictate some of the terms of the inspection. The OSHA compliance officer should be introduced to your OSHA representative and informed that all inspection activities must be coordinated through this individual.

Don’t hesitate to contact your OSHA attorney when OSHA first arrives or at any point during the opening conference or inspection in which your representative has concerns. You have a right to have your attorney represent you during an OSHA inspection.

Don’t be shy about asking the OSHA officer for his or her credentials (if they weren’t presented) and for details on the reason for the inspection. If the inspection was prompted by an employee complaint, for instance, don’t be afraid to ask to see a copy of the complaint.

Do: Ask the inspector what he or she wants to do during the inspection, and how long it is expected to take. Confirm with the officer upfront that the inspection will be limited to specified areas relevant to the inspector’s stated goals. However, know that if there are observable violations in plain sight, the OSHA officer can and will investigate them.

Do: Your OSHA representative should accompany the OSHA compliance officer throughout the walk-around.

Don’t be lax about safety equipment – make sure everyone, including the inspector, wears any applicable safety equipment that is required in the areas that you will be walking through.

Do take notes on what the OSHA inspector sees, does and says during the investigation. If the inspector takes photos or videos of certain areas, your representative should take the same photos or videos to have a record of what the inspector looked at.

Don’t volunteer information. Whatever the OSHA representative says during the walk-around is on the record. So generally, the less said to the OSHA inspection officer, the better.

Do: Know your rights regarding employee interviews. You can consent to which managers and supervisors are interviewed, and your OSHA representative (and attorney) can be present for interviews with managers and supervisors. Keep in mind that managerial employees speak for the company, so any admission they make is a company admission. Managers and supervisors should be instructed to tell the truth but not to volunteer information that is not asked for or to comment on matters for which they do not have first-hand knowledge.

Do: Be sure to inform rank-and-file employees of their rights with respect to interviews. Your representative is not generally allowed to be present for employee interviews, but employees are allowed to be accompanied by a representative of their choice. Let them know they have a right to speak or not speak to OSHA and to request that their conversation not be recorded. Advise employees to tell the truth but not to speculate on matters for which they do not have first-hand information.

Do: Produce requested records in compliance with OSHA requirements. Ask for all document requests in writing. OSHA regulations dictate that employers produce 300, 300A and 301 forms within four business hours of the agency’s request. For requests of records that are not required under an OSHA standard, take the requisite time to review the records for accuracy and completeness, perhaps with your attorney, before turning them over to OSHA. If the request is too burdensome or if it is irrelevant to the investigation, you may be able to make a case for not producing these records.

Sheehy, Ware, Pappas & Grubbs can assist you with the complex OSHA compliance process and help you assert your rights throughout the OSHA inspection process. Few firms in the United States match our expertise in OSHA matters. Our OSHA attorneys have represented hundreds of clients in OSHA investigations, and we are able to perform 24/7 rapid response on-site coordination with our clients, often arriving before the OSHA inspector. For assistance with your OSHA matter, contact the OSHA attorneys at Sheehy, Ware, Pappas & Grubbs.