Safety and OSHA News

Top 10 dos and don’ts for OSHA inspections from 2 OSHA inspectors


Haven’t been inspected by OSHA, or, at least not recently?

Here are the top-10 dos and don’ts during OSHA inspections, according to two inspectors:

  1. Don’t make me wait. It just tells me you’re not ready. Nothing you can do at the last minute is going to make much difference anyway.
  2. It’s best to be open with me.
  3. Don’t try to block my line of site by bringing a bunch of employees along on the walk-through. I’ll wait until I get to see what I want to see. Some of us use digital cameras. Some of us even videotape the inspection.
  4. Be prepared to answer questions. Have all required OSHA documents, including those outlining safety plans, ready for me.
  5. Don’t discourage employees from talking to me. I’ll talk to them one way or another. I find ways to slip employees my business card, and once I do, they usually call. If necessary, I’ll get a subpoena to talk to your employees.
  6. Don’t lie to me. That makes me angry.
  7. Think about hazards, not just standards, when you evaluate your workplace for safety. I look for hazards, not standard violations.
  8. Have your training documents in order. I do look at them. If you have Hispanic employees, make sure you have documentation that they understood your safety training.
  9. Plan ahead and designate a person or people who will meet with me. Make sure the person is prepared. It doesn’t matter to me whether you have a full-time safety manager or not. That doesn’t make me any tougher or easier on a company.
  10. Check out OSHA’s Field Operations Manual for inspectors. Even though it’s written for inspectors, it’s available to anyone for free on the OSHA website (you can download a PDF here). It’s a great resource to prepare any company for the possibility of an OSHA inspection.

(Two OSHA inspectors provided these tips at the American Society of Safety Engineers’ 2010 annual conference.)

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  1. PO'd Safety Guy says:

    While there is some good information here, it’s all worded in a tone of arrogance , intimidation and “I’m gonna get you”. Where is there any mention of HELPING the employer? There isn’t. Where is the sense of cooperation or partnership in this piece? There isn’t. It’s this attitude that serves to build barriers between business and OSHA. Which proves the point made by so many other readers in various posts on this site: OSHA’s goal is not to help you, but to take your money. If these two inspectors are typical of OSHA, businesses better duck because nothing they do will deter OSHA’s slash and burn tactics.
    I find #5 particularly annoying. “I find ways to slip employees my business card, and once I do, they usually call. If necessary, I’ll get a subpoena to talk to your employees.” If that isn’t a statement of deceit and self-importance, I don’t know what is.

  2. Great article and it was proven true in our recent OSHA inspection. First and foremost we do required annual trainings and document them in the employee files. When OSHA showed up in a random audit I was nervous but confident. We were able to quickly get the documentation he requested and the audit began. Yes, they found several infractions but none deemed serious. Several times I asked the auditor to take a look at this situation or that situation and asked for his help in making sure we were following the rule and if there was anything we could do beyond that to increase our safety. Once the tension was reduced he opened up about how pleasant it was to be welcomed into a facility as he is often perceived as the villain. I thanked him for auditing us and quickly took actions to rectify our abatements. We provided pictures and documentations to show the actions taken and even asked for a follow-up meeting to get clarifications on one of our solutions to make sure it met approval. By being open and honest with the auditor we were able to reduce our fines by over 60% which saved us over $5000. If your company doesn’t have a true Safety focus and you are not following OSHA safety training and guidelines then your auditor will take a much more serious stance.

  3. Ralph Montigny says:

    In response to the top 10 dos and don’t s,1.companies have the right to verify the inspector’s credentials, make the OSHA inspector wait a reasonable time for your designated representative (e.g.,safety officer,attorney) to arrive ask the inspector to state the purpose of visit (fatality,complaint,scheduled(wall-to-wall)inspection). ask for a warrant to define the scope of inspection limit the inspectors access to only the area(s) relevant to the scope of the inspection or warrant. correct conditions before the inspector enters accompany the inspector at all times and duplicate any photographs or measurements he or she makes. plan ahead and be prepared. consult with an attorney prior to either allowing or refusing entry and to be represented by an attorney during the inspection if you desire.
    Know your rights and keep your employees safe,because OSHA is now all about the money not safety !

  4. I think it is rather obvious-companies do not like OSHA because they create all kinds of “problems”, and the OSHA inspectors distrust the companies and anticipate they will have to “battle” with the companies to get what they want.

    Lost in this confrontation is the whole purpose of OSHA and safety rules-the protection and well-being of the employees. Neither side seems to get that.

    Maybe this is a naive concept, but there should not be any “sides’ to this issue. Injured employees don’t provide benefit to anyone.

  5. Another PO'ed Safety Guy says:

    I have finally figured it out! This is now Taxation by Regulation! Be it OSHA, MSHA, or any other DOL / EPA / DEC department, they have to offset their budgets with fines. Just another “Cost of doing Business” debt the small businesses have to fund.

  6. PO'd Safety Guy says:

    Another PO’d Safety Guy – You mean there’s 2 PO’d safety guys? Anyway, I agree with you. For most of these agencies it’s all about the money. The era of cooperation and collaboration is gone. And it’s at every level of government. New York State, for example, has raised its fees on everything from auto registration to fishing licenses and everything in between. I believe they also have the highest gas and cigarette taxes in the nation. And, they want to slap an additional tax on sugary soft drinks. My town has raised its fees on bulding permits and they are much stricter on code violations, fines having increased significantly. The point is states, municipalities, counties, the fed all need money and they all have their tentacles out to grab ours. It will only get worse.

  7. Randy Mac says:

    Does anyone really believe that fewer workers would be injured without OSHA and OSHA fines? C’mon! The threat of fines is often the only reason a company resolves a safety issue.

    Safety professionaly should celebrate OSHA, not demonize it.

  8. Safety Guy #3 says:

    I agree with the other safety guys…It has become a matter of funding. OSHA has been hiring left and right…Yes there needs to be an agency to enforce safety and health standards, but companies have already begun to see the importance and cost savings in safety. Reduction in workers comp rates, reduction in hidden cost associated with accidents, etc. I am opposed to making government bigger for the sake of making it bigger, including OSHA.

  9. Gunny Shrek says:

    I find it rather offensive that an alledged “Safety Guy” has so must disdain (contempt) for the agency that is the reason for his job (or is it just a position?).

    Point is…OSHA is a regulatory agency and the facts are that some companies really don’t even care about the “cost of doing business”. Therefore OSHA does tend to assess stiff penalties, but in reality the actual settlement is far from the assessed. Remember this…what’s a human life worth? What if it was your life???

  10. PO'd Safety Guy says:

    Randy Mac – I don’t think too many people believe fewer workers would be injured without OSHA. OSHA serves a purpose as there will always be companies whose unscrupulous management will try to circumvent safety regulations. To these companies, OSHA should be a pain in the butt. But I think the majority of companies try to do the right thing for their employees by implementing and enforcing effective safety measures. Unfortunately, no company is perfect in these efforts and OSHA seems to come down just as hard on them. OSHA inspectors will always find some infraction and I believe most enter a facility not with an attitude of, “How can I help this company protect its employees?” but on of, “How much in fines can I get from them?” It’s a whole different mindset which has shifted dramatically over the years, from cooperation/collaboration to intimidation/ confrontation. Yes, OSHA serves a purpose; they just need to meet that purpose with less of a crappy attitude.

  11. Another PO'd Safety Guy says:

    Randy Mac- Are you an OSHA inspector or a union member? I have had many dealings with OSHA in my “position”. The OSHA inspectors are all about the citations and not about protecting workers. OSHA has lost site of its original intent to protect the work force. They have learned that business/industry is a veritable cash cow and they return to milk the cow every chance they get. We have one inspector that has made comments as to how our industry “has deep pockets and he is going to get some of it”. In my opinion these statements should be grounds for immediate termination of his job! The problem is if you dont have a recorder recording him it just becomes heresay if you bring it up. The company I work for is very committed to workers safety. Nothing OSHA can do can improve on that commitment. OSHA can only become another cost of doing business as stated by some of the other comments. If OSHA is truly about workers safety then why is there a monetary penalty associated with a citation? Some will say that that is the only thing that will get a companies attention. If that is the case then that company has no regard for it’s work force. I find that more often than not that is not the case with employers.

  12. Randy Mac says:

    PO: Before OSHA, finger amputations and other serious injuries were common in industry. Now they are extremely rare. Unguarded belts and gears could easily be found. Today, that is not the case.

    In the 1920s, every company “promoted” safety. Workers wore “Safety First” hats, there were banners on the walls imploring workers to be careful, there were “Safety Committee” buttons on workers’ shirts. But none of this made much of a difference at all until OSHA started invoking fines.

    If you think that your company is “committed” to workers’ safety, that’s fine. But the cold hard facts are on my side.

    Finally, your opening comment, “Are you an OSHA inspector or a union member?” The answer is no, but I really need to comment on your implied disdain for the workers that you claim to care about. Is seems as though you are trying to demonize both groups, OSHA and union workers. Until safety professionals abandon their adversarial relationship with other groups that promote safety, it will be impossible to achieve a sustainably safe work environment.

  13. Gunny Shrek says:

    OOHRAH!!! “Randy Mac” I have to give many kudos.
    An observation from your 2nd paragraph is that I see what seems to be history repeating. Many companies today are “promoting” safety, giving away stickers and trinkets, forming “Safety Committees” hanging banners, etc.. All this is being done under the auspice of VPP. OSHA has extended the hand of partnership to industry by offering such programs, but many times companies pursue it as a “fill the square”, “check the box”, “fool the inspector” type game.

    My thoughts about VPP is “You can’t win the Heisman nor the Lombardi if you don’t play football. It’s not awarded for playing any other game”. How many companies or federal work places have you seen “create empires” called VPP offices, only to become frustrated and blame OSHA for their own lack of integrity. The problem is that they forget that VPP recognition is the ultimate “trophy” in the SAFETY PROGRAM arena. You’re not entitled to it if you don’t have a “Comprehensive and Effective” Safety and Health Program.

    Kudos also for your final sentence as well. That’s the difference between being a true safety professional and someone that is filling a safety position.

    P.S. In case asked, I am a safety professional of 25+ years. No I am not a CSHO although I have done work for OSHA and YES I have been a dues paying UNION member for the past 20+ years.

  14. To Randy Mac,
    Good response. I invite and welcome OSHA into our facility but the majority of the comments demonize OSHA and their safety focus. Yes there are a few bad auditors just like there are in any line of work but the majority of them do care and want to help. Yes there are fines for infractions that increase as willfulness is exposed and rightfully so. Would people stop speeding if the police stopped giving tickets, I don’t think so. Hearing how much distain in being laid on OSHA its no wonder that many auditors have a chip on their shoulder before they even show up. The examples above represent an adversarial stance taken by most companies so yes they are ready for battle. Look in the mirror and change your behaviors if you want to see the behaviors of the auditors change.

  15. Come on folks…Let’s be realistic about all of this. OSHA does work to partner with business with the ultimate goal of preventing workplace injuries. BUT……When they enter the worplace to do an inspection, their JOB is to find potential hazards and exposures with resulting fines. They are in fact the SAFETY POLICE at that time. If their function was to prevent injuries and enhance safety during the inspection the process would be very different.

    The CSHO would enter the workplace do a THOROUGH walkthrough, idenifty hazards and exposures. Then present them to the employer and give them thirty days to abate them ALL. If not they should get appropriate fines for failure to abate.

    The entire OSHA inspection program is ineffective because of its “enforcement nature”. Justifying OSHA Inspections in their present form is like convincing me to FEEL GOOD about getting a traffic ticket. After all the police officer is giving me the ticket to make me and others “safe”. Hmmmm?

  16. Randy Mac says:

    Steve, you’re missing the point. OSHA does not have the resources to perform thorough walkthroughs as you described. Companies are expected to perform such walkthroughs themselves. Your way would cost taxpayers a lot of money and completely infuriate the “small government” types.

    I may not feel good about getting a traffic ticket, but I realize that the ticket is my own fault, and I appreciate the fact that speeders, drunks and scofflaws are being kept off the road. Without police, traffic or safety, anarchy reigns.

  17. Jaime Lopez says:

    So if you see a “Hispanic” anywhere the assumption is they can’t speak English. Or they speak Spanish. Sounds pretty racist of OSHA.

    Note: I’m in that category of “Hispanic” and I’m not a illegal immigrant, nor a Spanish speaker. So check your racism at the door Mr/Ms OSHA inspector.

  18. Unfortunately yes there are some inspectors that have a jack in the box head and enjoy issuing fines to companies, There was an accident where an employee lost an eye due to removing his safety glasses, the employee kept reassuring that it was 100% his fault but the lady OSHA inspector kept telling him that the company had to be somewhat responsible for his injury. She kept pushing the issue and the employee kept to his story. But OSHA issues fines to “Teach those companies a lesson” for all out major safety violations in hope they will correct the problem, As the traffic ticket, you get one for speeding, you will slow down the next time so an OSHA fine is so a particular company will correct the safety issue instead of paying another fine. For most, all of the OSHA inspectors I have worked with were genuinely looking to help companies instead of just issuing fines for every safety violation encountered.

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