After the passing of the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act, Congress established the agency known as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — or OSHA — within the Department of Labor to help ensure safe working conditions for private sector employees. In addition to providing education, training and assistance, OSHA is also responsible for conducting workplace inspections that may be the result of accidents, complaints or just a mandatory scheduled inspection.
How to Prepare for an OSHA Inspection
Whatever the reason for a visit from OSHA, it’s important for safety managers in the construction industry to be well-prepared for inspections and not feel singled out by them. After all, the ultimate goal of an inspection is to ensure that your employees are working in safe conditions.
Clearly, when a compliance safety and health officer — or CSHO — is scheduled to conduct an inspection, you want to be properly prepared for the visit. Keep in mind that CSHOs are federal employees whom you should always extend sufficient respect to. It’s also critical to note that with only a little over 2,100 OSHA inspectors responsible for approximately 130 million workers nationally, you should avoid wasting a CSHO’s time.
With that said, you should also be aware of your rights and how to act responsibly so that any OSHA inspection you’re involved in goes as smoothly and productively as possible. Read on to learn more about how to conduct yourself appropriately and answer the question, “What does OSHA look for in an inspection?”
OSHA Inspection Checklist
As the construction industry is responsible for one in every five work-related deaths, OSHA has even titled the most common fatality causes in the industry — falls, electrocutions, being struck by an object and getting caught in or between objects — the “Fatal Four.” Consequently, any inspection conducted by a CSHO will understandably be focused on those dangers — as well as other related workplace factors that you have the right to be informed of.
Remember, safety inspections by OSHA are in place to keep everyone at your facility safe, make sure working conditions are optimal and ultimately ensure your business's compliance and success. Keep that fact as well as the following points in mind as a checklist for being prepared for an OSHA inspection:
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- Check IDs: Since CSHOs are federal employees, they each carry a government-issued identification card as well as official business cards — both of which you should ask for and verify as soon as a CSHO arrives at your facility and/or worksite.
- Ask why: You have the right to be informed of the reason for any OSHA inspection. If it’s not offered, ask the CSHO politely for the scope and reason for their visit.
- Grant permission: Before beginning, the CSHO must ask your permission to conduct the inspection. It’s highly advisable that you grant permission after notifying your appropriate managers. Remember that not granting permission will only raise suspicions with the inspector, who will then most likely return with a warrant to inspect — and quite possibly additional inspectors.
- Do not demonstrate: While you want to listen closely to all conversations and keep every piece of paperwork the CSHO gives you, it’s not advisable to offer anything — in written form or oral statements — that’s not required of you. The inspectors are busy professionals who are only there to see your daily operations, not equipment outside of those operations.
- Accompany walkarounds: Once the inspection begins, you should make sure a qualified member of your staff accompanies the CSHO throughout your building. If more than one inspector is working, each should be accompanied by a staff member — and under no circumstances should you or your employees perform any type of special demonstrations for the CSHOs, as doing so would be outside of the inspection's purpose. The CSHOs are merely there to observe and inspect.
- Document everything: From taking careful notes to capturing photographs, it’s vital to document as much as possible about the inspection. If you need more time to write down notes, ask for it — it’s your right to do so.
- Tell the truth: Throughout the entire process, it’s imperative that you tell the truth when you're responding to a CSHO’s questions — especially in interviews. Stick to the facts and refrain from offering your opinions or estimates regarding things like working conditions and/or timelines for making corrections, as the process should be accurate.
- Know the deadlines: While OSHA has six months from the time of an inspection to issue citations, employers who receive citations have only 15 working days to respond — by either contesting the citations or paying any associated fines.