What Happens During an OSHA Inspection?
What is OSHA?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal body in charge of overseeing employer compliance with workplace health and safety regulations under the OSH Act. To ensure compliance with these regulations, OSHA sends out compliance officers to inspect job sites and investigate claims of dangerous and hazardous working conditions.
Except in limited situations, employers will not be notified prior to an OSHA inspection. Employers cannot refuse to admit an OSHA compliance officer to a work site or otherwise interfere in any way with the inspection. Employers who do so may face fines and criminal penalties for their actions. There are three stages to an OSHA inspection: the opening conference, the walkthrough, and the closing conference.
During the opening conference, the compliance officer will meet with the employer and the authorized employee representative, if there is one. The OSH Act does not require that an employee representative be present for every inspection. However, if there is not an employee representative, then the compliance officer must speak with a reasonable number of employees about any hazardous safety or health conditions at the work site.
The officer will explain why he or she is there, the scope of the investigation, and the standards that apply to the investigation. If the investigation is the result of an employee complaint, the officer will explain how the employer may gain a copy of the complaint. The employer also will be allowed to choose a representative to accompany the compliance officer during the inspection.
At the conclusion of the opening conference, the compliance officer, the employer representative, and the employee representative will walk through the job site. The compliance officer will choose the route, determine the scope of the investigation, and the length of the investigation. The compliance officer may elect to take photographs or videotape the worksite, review employer records of workplace accidents and injuries, and interview employees in private. The compliance officer also may take instrument readings, measure noise levels, and collect samples from the work site in order to determine whether there are any safety or health hazards that need to be corrected.
During the walk-through, the compliance officer will point out any dangerous conditions that violate OSHA regulations and offer advice on how best to correct them. In some instances, the employer may be able to correct the dangerous condition while the compliance officer is still present. If employers are able to do this, they should — it demonstrates good faith on the part of the employer to comply with workplace health and safety laws and may result in the imposition of a lesser penalty for the violation.
Finally, the compliance officer will hold a closing conference after the walk-through. The employer, the employer’s representative, and the employee’s representative have a right to be present during the conference. The compliance officer will discuss any apparent safety and health violations by the employer and explain the employer’s right to appeal any citation or penalty imposed by OSHA.
During this time, the employer may find it prudent to offer records and other evidence of the attempts they have made to comply with the OSH Act and any information they may have that will help OSHA determine how long it will take the employer to correct (or abate) any dangerous or hazardous conditions.
In some instances, there may be more than one closing conference. Also, a follow-up inspection normally will be performed to ensure the employer abated the dangerous condition. Employers who fail to abate a violation may be penalized by OSHA for their failure.