What to Do if OSHA Shows Up on Your Job Site
If OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) shows up at your work place, what should you do?
If it’s not immediately obvious, there will be no shortage of opinions. Some say you need to comply with every request they make; others say you shouldn’t cooperate with them. You may want to read through some of these opinions before making any decisions.
The first thing you should consider is whether or not the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) applies to your situation. OSHA is a federal law that regulates safety and health issues in the workplace. The act was passed in 1970, but only became effective in 1975. There are several sections within OSHA dealing with workers’ compensation, occupational hazards, worker’s compensation insurance requirements, and other labor laws.
OSHA regulations are enforced by state agencies such as the Department of Labor, which enforces various provisions of the act.
There are many different types of inspections that OSHA conducts:
1. Field Inspections : These inspections focus on specific areas where accidents occur.
They include inspecting equipment and working conditions, such as ventilation systems and electrical wiring.
2. Complaint or Voluntary Inspections : If an employee files a complaint, OSHA may send someone to investigate the working conditions.
The employer cannot refuse access to the inspection under this voluntary program.
3. Targeted Inspections : When OSHA identifies a high-hazard industry that could benefit from increased inspection effort, it selects companies within those industries for surprise inspections.
4. Follow-Up Inspections : After OSHA has investigated an accident at a workplace, it may return for follow-up inspections to ensure that appropriate measures have been implemented to keep workers safe.
These are just some of the types of inspections that an employer may be subject to. While the type of inspection your business receives will vary, there are several steps you can take ahead of time to ensure compliance with any government inspections:
1. Check the OSHA website to see if your type of business comes under their guidelines.
2. Create an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP).
This should detail how you plan to implement safety measures at your specific job site.
3. Notify your employees about upcoming inspections.
This can be done by posting a notice somewhere visible within the workplace.
When an inspection does occur, the government official has full authority to examine any part of your business. He or she may ask to see your IIPP as well as any records related to workplace injuries and illnesses. The government may also speak with your employees about safety conditions at your business.
The goal of all of this is for businesses to create safe workplaces and keep workers healthy. All employers should remember this during an inspection and make the necessary changes to comply with government requests.
How to prepare for an OSHA inspection.
OSHA stands for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It’s a federal agency with the mission of ensuring safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) of 1970, gives OSHA the authority to monitor state compliance with occupational safety and health standards.
The OSHAct gives OSHA the right to inspect workplaces in order to look for hazards that could impact employee safety and health. If an employer fails to provide a safe working environment, OSHA has the authority to impose fines.
While many businesses try their best to stay within the lines of safety regulations and norms, some fail to do so. Some employers cut corners in order to save money. Others are simply unaware of safety regulations. As an employer, it’s important that you know how to prepare for an OSHA inspection at your business, as well as what to do if one is already in progress.
How can you tell if an OSHA inspection is already in progress?
While it is rare for OSHA to conduct a surprise inspection, it does happen from time to time. One of the easiest ways to tell if an inspection is already in process is by looking for safety signs and posters around your business. These posters will likely be placed in prominent locations around the building. They may also be stapled to certain parts of the wall, such as near safety exits or first aid stations.
If you see one of these posters, it is a good idea to not make a scene and to immediately leave the area. In fact, if you see a sign that says “A Federal Safety Inspection is in Progress, Please Leave the Premises,” you should do exactly that. If an OSHA official asks you to stay, then you must comply. Otherwise, you could be subject to legal action.
While these signs and posters are not visible in every location, every state has an online OSHA portal. This portal is similar to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) database. It provides a list of all locations that have or will soon undergo an inspection. While these portals do not feature physical posters, they are a good way to keep informed on any potential safety hazards located in your area.
How do you handle an OSHA inspection at your business?
If you see a sign that says “OSHA Inspection in Progress,” then you must not interfere. Your best bet is to seek out the nearest manager and alert him or her to the situation. The next step is to wait for instruction on what to do next. While you should avoid interfering with the inspection process, you need not fear any legal action. Legally, you cannot be held liable for an OSHA inspection.
Your employer, on the other hand, can be fined. This is serious business as fines can range from a few thousand dollars to more than $1 million dollars. In fact, in 2015, one company had to pay nearly $3 million dollars in fines in Alabama due to a lack of safety regulations.
While fines are certainly a possibility, most businesses do not have safety hazards that are that severe. Most fines for safety code violations involve employers not keeping proper records. If you have to answer any questions during an inspection, you must tell the truth in order to avoid legal ramifications.
If you are a concerned employee that is worried about safety hazards at your place of business, you need not fear being fired or otherwise retaliated against for bringing it up. In fact, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) protects employees who report hazards. You may first want to speak with someone in management before alerting OSHA, however.
How do you prepare for an inspection?
If you own or work at a business that has undergone or is about to undergo an inspection, there are some things you can do to prepare. The first thing you should do is make sure your records are up to date and easily accessible. You’ll also need to make sure your employees know what to do if an inspection comes. You may want to post signs or place notices in an employee bulletin. It may also help to have a section on your company website that details what to do in the event of an inspection.
You should also consider things from the customer’s perspective. For example, if you own a restaurant, then it might not hurt to have signs that direct customers to safety exits or restrooms. You can even have an emergency plan in place that tells them what they should do in the event of a fire or other emergency. You may also want to consider having a supply of emergency contact phone numbers such as the local fire department and the police department in your store so that in the event of an emergency, your customers will have this information readily available.
Many states require that certain businesses have fire safety regulations in place. These are often posted on the OSHA website for that state. If you are unsure if your business is mandated to have fire safety regulations, then it might be up to you to contact your local fire department or city hall.
What happens during an inspection?
When the inspector arrives, he or she will first look at your employee occupational health and safety posters. This is a quick way for the inspector to see if your business is informed of all the legal labor laws that exist. If you haven’t put up any of these posters or they are out of date, then this could be a cause for concern and may merit a follow-up inspection.
After this, the inspector will likely observe your employees working. He or she will be looking to see if they are following safety regulations in what they are doing and that they know how to do it without endangering themselves. The inspector will also be looking at how management is interacting with employees.
Will an inspection result in a fine?
Inspectors have the power to shut down a business if they see fit to do so. They can also issue citations and fines. These are often determined on a case-by-case basis. The bottom line is, if you are told to fix something and you fail to do so, you are only going to make things worse for yourself.
Is there anything I can do to prevent this?
The best thing you can do is be informed and prepared. Make sure that your employees are as well. Having an emergency contact number posted in a visible location is always a good idea so that employees know where to turn in case of an emergency. You should also make sure that your fire exits aren’t blocked and that all exits are clearly marked.
You may also want to consider having a fire extinguisher in your building. The type you have on hand should be specific to the types of materials that are stored or used in the building. For example, you wouldn’t have a fire extinguisher on hand that is meant for use on electrical fires if the building is also equipped with a woodworking shop.
If you follow all these steps, chances are good that you will pass any inspection the state has to offer you. If you are still worried or uncertain, it never hurts to contact your local fire department or someone at city hall that is in charge of such things. They should be able to help you find out exactly what the state or local laws are in this regard.
What if I fail the inspection?
If you fail, don’t worry. All businesses have received citations of some sort at one time or another. If you are unsure how to address these concerns, it never hurts to consult an expert such as your insurance agent to see what your options are. They should be able to help you find a solution that works for your business.
If you fail an inspection, it is important that you take measures to address and correct any issues as soon as possible. Ignoring problems usually only makes them worse. By opening up communication with your insurance agent, you can often find a quick solution to any problem you may face.
Sources & references used in this article:
- If OSHA is so bad, why is compliance so good? (D Weil – The RAND Journal of Economics, 1996 – JSTOR)
- OSHA Inspections (J Coniglio – Professional Safety, 2010 – search.proquest.com)
- An Overview of OSHA Investigations and Citations (PB Russell, DAD Hays, S Powell – Constr. Law., 2017 – HeinOnline)