You get a phone call from the front desk or a knock on your office door informing you that OSHA has arrived for a “visit”. Since it is unannounced, you have little time to respond or think through how to approach what most likely will involve a day or more of pulling documents and walking through your facility for an inspection. Not exactly what you had on your list of things to do.
Your first thought might be, “Do I really need to deal with this today?” You have options. One choice would be to request that the OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) obtain a warrant to perform the inspection. We have never recommended this step to a client. Making an OSHA CSHO leave to go through the process to get a warrant will most likely result in a more difficult inspection than what would have happened. OSHA administration would deny that this is the case, but it is only common sense to think that the CSHO would see this as gamesmanship and be willing to respond in return.
In a few cases, we have experienced inspections where a CSHO was willing to return in a day or two, if the person who would normally accompany them through the facility and answer questions is away from the facility and is not expected to return soon. That most often depends on the reason for performing the inspection. If it is a programmed inspection or one under a targeted inspection, it may be delayed. If it is in response to an imminent danger contact or complaint, the inspection will take place.
If you decide to go ahead with the inspection, here are a few tips to help things go as smoothly as possible.
Be respectful and understand that the CSHO is there to do her job. Your ideas about “big government” or the way OSHA does things are not going to be well-received by the CSHO.
Answer questions truthfully, but do not volunteer information. The CSHO is a federal agent and lying to a federal agent will often lead to criminal charges. On the other hand, you are not under an obligation to offer information that is not requested.
If the inspection resulted from a complaint, you do not know which of your employees made the complaint, even if you know which of your employees made the complaint. Any semblance of a retaliatory action taken against that employee could lead to a Whistleblower case. You do not want to get caught up into that type of case.
If you are working with a safety consultant, please contact him to let you know that OSHA has initiated an inspection. You may also want to alert your company attorney. The sooner you make these contacts, the better.
Attitude is everything when it comes to an OSHA inspection. Working with the CSHO to help her work through the process make things go more smoothly. CSHOs have the latitude to simply let you know that something needs to be fixed versus writing a citation for each and every violation. Their willingness to do this is directly related to the way you are treating them.
What are some other tips you would recommend to help make an OSHA inspection go more smoothly? We appreciate your comments.
Rich Galutia CSP specializes in the areas of employee safety (OSHA), trucking compliance (FMCSA) and animal feed safety (FDA).