Ask business owners to name their least favorite things about running a business, and OSHA inspections will probably be somewhere on the list. Nobody likes that kind of surprise or that kind of scrutiny.
Granted, the odds of your business being inspected are fairly low. But just like you should never run a business without a risk management plan, you should also never run a business without a game plan for when OSHA shows up at your door. Knowing the process ahead of time will make things go more smoothly for you, the inspector and your employees. And that can only help your case – and possibly save you a load of money.
Why would OSHA want to pop in on your business?
There are several situations that can prompt a visit:
- Catastrophic accident with injury or fatality
- Complaint from an employee
- Referral from another government agency, organization or the media
- Random industry-wide inspection
- Follow-up inspection
What’s your game plan if OSHA shows up?
Here’s a 10-point plan to help you prepare:
- Keep good records and document everything. If you get inspected and don’t have the documentation OSHA wants, you could be in for a rough inspection and costly penalties.
- Choose a company representative to interact and coordinate with OSHA inspectors, as well as an employee representative. Train multiple people so you always have a back-up.
- Verify the inspector’s identity. The last thing you need is an imposter showing up claiming to be an OSHA inspector, such as a competitor spying on your operation. Check the person’s ID, which should include the inspector’s photo, name and office. Write this information down. If you’re still not sure, call the local OSHA office.
- Find out why you’re being inspected. Is the inspection related to safety or to industrial hygiene? Is it in response to a complaint or incident, or is it random? Find out, and if there is a compliant, make sure you receive a copy of it.
- Delay the inspection until your company representatives are on site. Never allow the inspection process to begin until your chosen company reps are present. You even have the right to refuse an inspection without a search warrant if you find it necessary.
- Keep the inspection focused. This is not the time for a full tour. Define the specific areas the inspector will need to see, and limit the inspection to those areas whenever possible.
- Take photos and videos. The OSHA inspector will be taking photographs and/or recording video as a matter of routine. Have someone on your team take photos and/or video of the same things so you have the same record of events.
- Don’t compromise trade secrets. OSHA is required to protect the confidentiality of any trade secrets, and you should verify those trade secrets before the inspection begins.
- Debrief your staff after interviews. The OSHA inspector may conduct interviews with some of your employees as part of the inspection. Your company reps are allowed to attend interviews with your management employees, but not with your hourly employees. After any hourly employees are interviewed, you should “debrief” them to find out what was asked.
- Be positive and cooperative. It won’t do your case any good to be unhelpful or combative toward the inspector or the process. Be nice to them and they’ll likely be nice to you. Be helpful, be a good listener, take notes on alleged violations and close the process by stressing your company’s commitment to your employees’ health and safety.