What to Do When an OSHA Inspector Knocks on Your Door

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A visit from an OSHA
inspector can be stressful for employers—so here are some tips from workplace
safety experts to help employers navigate through the process.

An
employee complaint to OSHA about a safety issue can sometimes result in an
inspection, said Patrick Miller, an attorney with Sherman & Howard in
Denver.

OSHA
may also elect to ask the employer to investigate the employee’s complaint
and provide a written response back to the agency, explained Carla Gunnin, an
attorney with Jackson Lewis in Atlanta.

How It
Starts

Other
triggers for inspections can be referrals from other agencies, including law
enforcement agencies. Or a company may be examined as part of an enforcement
program that zeroes in on players in high-hazard industries.

An
employer must notify OSHA about catastrophic events. Fatalities must be
reported within eight hours and will trigger an inspection. An in-patient
hospitalization, amputation or eye loss must be reported within 24 hours and
may also prompt an inspection.

Employers
should be courteous to OSHA inspectors and treat them like any other guest,
said John Martin, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Washington, D.C. But
they should also find out the specific reason for the inspection and should
accompany the OSHA officer through the worksite.

Limit
the inspection to the specific issue that prompted the site visit. If an OSHA
officer is there specifically to look at electrical cords but tries to do a
wall-to-wall inspection, employers can push back and try to limit the scope,
Miller said.

During
The Walkaround

Employers
have the right to refuse to let OSHA enter the worksite, but it’s fairly easy
for an inspector to then get a warrant from a federal judge that grants access,
Gunnin said.

“An
employer can seek to quash these types of warrants; however, extreme caution
should be used before ever going this route, and a legal counsel who is well
versed in this type of process should be consulted.”

In most
circumstances, employers don’t refuse entry, she said. 

Employers
have rights they can claim during the inspection process, such as asking the
OSHA officer to wait for a member of management to arrive before entering the
worksite.

Generally,
OSHA inspectors will wait up to one or two hours but will want to just move
forward with the inspection if it’s going to take longer, Martin said.

It
should be noted that for work that is done in plain view, such as a
construction site, OSHA can document violations of the OSH Act without ever
entering the property, Gunnin said.

Employers
should carefully document everything the compliance officer is inspecting,
Miller said.

Martin
recommends that the employer representative bring a camera on the walkaround. If
the OSHA officer is taking pictures, the employer should take pictures, too, he
said. That way the employer can review everything with counsel after the
inspection.

If
employees use personal protective equipment—such as hardhats—on the worksite,
make sure the inspector is also using that equipment, Martin said. “You
don’t want to create the impression that safety rules aren’t enforced.”

He
added that anything workers say to OSHA officers can be used against the
employer in an administrative proceeding. “Don’t say, ‘I’m sorry, I meant
to fix that.’ ”

The
compliance officer may also want to review certain documents—some of which must
be provided to OSHA upon request, Miller said. OSHA 300 logs are most commonly
requested, but officers may ask for a laundry list of other items, he added.
“Take a look at those items carefully and push back if the request is too
broad.”

One-on-One Interviews?

OSHA
inspectors may also interview employees. While nonsupervisory employees can be
interviewed in private, employers have the right to have a lawyer or another
manager present when a supervisory employee is interviewed—and they should do
so, Gunnin said.

Since
managers are speaking on behalf of the company, if they admit to a violation,
then by extension, the company is admitting to the violation. Legal counsel can
help ensure that the compliance officer’s questions are clear and that they are
answered appropriately, Miller noted.

Tips for Employers

Cooperation
goes a long way and establishing a good relationship with the compliance
officer from the beginning is a best practice, Miller said.

Employers
should designate someone to manage the inspection who can decide whether
outside counsel is needed and can document everything that happens during the
process, Gunnin suggested.

“If
OSHA is expected to be on site for multiple days, the employer should ask that
[the representative] provide a short briefing at the end of each day of what
they are finding and any concerns that have arisen,” she said. “It is
better for the employer to know in current time what the potential issues are
rather than waiting for the inspection to finalize.”

Employee safety in the
workplace or worksite should be the number one goal for any company.  Converge HR Solutions offers an HR
Outsourcing service, which includes employee handbooks & policies, so the
employees are informed on safety guidelines within the company.  The service also includes regulatory
compliance, which ensures that all of your companies safety guidelines are up
to date and compliant with the most recent rule changes, so you do not have to
worry if OSHA shows up.  For more
information regarding the HR Outsourcing service and what else it has to offer,
or any of our other services in general, visit our website at https://convergehrsolutions.com/ or email us directly at info@convergehrsolutions.com or give us a call at 610-296-8550.

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