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Dos and Don’ts for OSHA Inspections

by Tim AustinAugust 12, 2019 8:00 AM

Are you prepared for an OSHA inspector to arrive at your door? OSHA performed roughly 72,000 federal and state plan inspections in 2018 alone and all it takes to earn an unexpected visit from an inspector is a complaint from an employee or operating in a high-hazard industry.

Nobody plans to have an OSHA inspection occur at their place of business, but it’s important to act accordingly if it does. Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do before, during, and after an OSHA inspection to protect your business.

An OSHA inspector reviewing the worksite of a small business. 

Do: Invest in Workplace Safety

One of the most important steps you can take should happen well before an OSHA inspector arrives. Investing in workplace safety benefits your business in two big ways. First, a culture of safety with set policies, procedures, drug tests, and other measures can minimize injury risks and help protect your workforce. Second, these policies, along with proper reporting for any incidents, will show OSHA that you’ve done your part to make your job site a safe place. In terms of what you do to protect your business and potentially lower your workers’ compensation claims, check out our list of dos and don’ts for workplace safety.

Don’t: Assume Your Existing Policies are Fine After Years of Inaction

If you already have an employee handbook with various workplace safety policies in place, that’s great. If it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed those policies, they may not be so helpful after all.

There’s so much that changes over time. Between new legal requirements, the growth of your business, and other factors, what may have been a solid set of safety policies at one point could be outdated. A regular review of your policies with a risk management expert can help you keep your handbook updated and your business in a good spot in case an OSHA inspector ever stops by for a visit.

Do: Be Welcoming and Professional if An Inspector Arrives

The arrival of an OSHA inspector isn’t good news, but it’s important to be civil toward whoever arrives to scope out your space. Any attempts to prevent the inspector from entering can be perceived as obstruction, which has some major consequences including criminal penalties. Instead, welcome the inspector in and be friendly and honest. Demonstrating good faith can go a long way toward the reduction of any resulting penalties, so don’t be afraid to work with the inspector and make the process a lot quicker and easier.

Don’t: Provide Information Unasked

Just because you should be courteous and honest doesn’t mean you need to tell the inspector everything right away. It’s important to be honest when an inspector asks questions, but as the Society for Human Resource Management suggests, “Once you’ve answered a question, stop talking.” As long as you succinctly and honestly answer the inspector’s questions, you don’t have to volunteer any other information unless it’s requested.

Do: Gather Information

The inspector isn’t the only person allowed to ask questions. When the inspector first arrives and holds an opening conference for the visit, ask to see some credentials and get some details about what is being inspected and the nature of the visit. The inspection can also provide you with ways that can potentially improve the overall safety of your workplace. Feel free to ask the inspector if there are ways that you can improve any existing hazards – you never know if he or she may have a couple inexpensive solutions observed from other worksites.

Don’t: Leave Inspector Alone

Once an inspector is on your premises, it’s important to make sure that someone from your business always tags along. Not only will this person be able to answer any questions and assist with the inspection process, he or she can document the same information as the inspector. If the inspector takes pictures of something, do the same. If he or she takes down measurements, record that information. This information may not be readily available to you, so saving these details can help in case you need to defend your business against a citation.

Do: Consider Your Options After the Inspection

It can take months for OSHA to issue a citation. If your business is cited, you’ll want to address the hazards noted in the citation. You’ll also need to decide if you want to contest any violations (or abatement requirements), aim for early settlement, or go for voluntary compliance. The right path is heavily dependent on the specifics of your case, so you’ll want to talk to experts to see which course of action makes the most sense.

Whether you’re concerned about potential OSHA inspections or want to take a proactive approach to workplace safety, GMS can help. As a Professional Employer Organization, we have the experts it takes to help you create a culture of safety and protect your business against safety violations, lost work hours, and costly fines and workers’ compensation rates. Contact GMS today about risk management strategies or any of our other HR management services.

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