Every employer should strive to maintain a good OSHA record. Not only are customers, insurers, and others increasingly scrutinizing employers’ OSHA records as a condition of doing business, but OSHA penalties and citations can be substantial – as much as $124,000 for a single willful or repeat violation. Citations and penalties not only impact a company’s bottom line, but also its ability to do business.
An OSHA inspection is not a friendly visit – OSHA’s purpose is to gather evidence so that citations and penalties can be issued and later affirmed. This brief guide to OSHA Inspections is designed to help employers be prepared and to understand and exercise their rights – prior to, during, and after OSHA inspections – with the goal of minimizing OSHA liability.
THE OPENING CONFERENCE
Most OSHA inspections begin with an opening conference. The purpose of an opening conference is to discuss what will happen during the inspection. This is your opportunity to start managing the inspection. Here are some recommendations:
Ask to see the inspector’s official credentials if he or she does not offer them.
Identify the company representative that you have designated to supervise the inspection, and inform the inspector that all inspection activities should be coordinated through your designated representative, no one else.
Don‘t be afraid to ask questions, including why your facility or worksite was chosen for inspection (employee complaint, referral by another agency, etc.).
Ask to see a copy of the written complaint if there is one.
Confirm with the inspector what he or she wants to see and do, and how long he or she expects to be at your workplace. Be courteous, but keep the inspection moving toward completion.
Reach an understanding with the OSHA inspector that the inspection will be limited to the areas or conditions listed in the complaint or referral. For example, if an employee files a complaint about defective forklifts in the warehouse, then the inspection should be limited to forklifts in the warehouse, not other areas. The OSHA inspector will usually investigate other observed violations in “plain view” during the investigation, but your company representative should not be afraid to object if the inspector wants to expand a limited investigation into a lengthy “wall-to-wall” inspection, without justification.
Identify areas in the workplace or documents that might reveal confidential trade secrets and get the inspector’s confirmation that photographs of confidential areas or documents will be noted as “trade secret” in OSHA’s file. Send a confirming letter or email if necessary.
Take good notes of all matters discussed at the Opening Conference.