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What To Do When OSHA Visits Your Job Site

August 17, 2022

Cecilia De La Rosa

Cecilia De La Rosa

Employers should always be prepared for a visit from an OSHA site inspector. Make sure that your documentation, including OSHA logs, is complete and readily available. If a site inspector visits one of your job sites, your employees need to be prepared as well. Because most inspections are unannounced, all workers need to know what to do if OSHA visits. Develop your plan ahead of time, train your workers, and practice your responses to ensure that your workforce is ready.

When will OSHA make a site visit?

An OSHA inspector can visit a job site for a number of reasons, including:

  • Receipt of a complaint or concern from an employee, customer, or the media
  • Seeing an employee working in a dangerous manner
  • As part of a planned, scheduled inspection
  • After an accident
  • Targeting construction projects
  • Follow-up inspection

In almost all cases, OSHA will not give notice before an inspection. The exceptions to this rule include:

  • Where there is imminent danger, allowing the employer to correct the situation as quickly as possible.
  • When special preparation is necessary, or the inspection would be most effective after regular business hours.
  • When necessary to ensure the presence of employer and employee representatives who are needed during the inspection.
  • When notice would enhance the probability of an effective and thorough inspection.

What to do when OSHA visits your job site

Since every company is structured differently, you should work with your employees and safety committee members to develop an inspection procedure that works best for you. Here are some general guidelines to help you develop your OSHA visit plan:

  • You can refuse to allow an inspection and request that the inspector get a search warrant. This will buy you time before the inspector returns.
  • Don’t allow the inspection process to begin until your preestablished management team members are present. These team members should represent your safety committee, supervision, and workers. In Oregon, OSHA inspectors are instructed to wait up to 45 minutes for the appropriate personnel to arrive on site.
  • Ask the inspector the reason for the visit. You should know whether the inspection is the result of a complaint, random draw, or if the inspector was driving by the job site and noticed an unsafe condition.
  • If the inspection is the result of a complaint, ask for a copy of the complaint. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for making a complaint, so you won’t get any identifying information. OSHA inspectors are also tasked with investigating complaints regarding discrimination or retaliation against workers for making a safety complaint. These investigations don’t usually require a physical inspection.
  • Inspectors are required to ask for an employee representative during the inspection. If you are a union shop, the union safety chairman, shop steward, or other union official may participate. For open shops, you may choose to have an employee representative from the safety committee participate.
  • You can define the areas that the inspector will see and confine the visit to those areas. Don’t offer the inspector free reign on the whole job site. Inspectors can cite violations they see in “plain view,” even if that isn’t the reason for the inspection. Your team should escort the inspector to the area of concern to ensure that other areas are not seen.
  • Don’t volunteer information. Take notes of what the inspector observes and who they talk to.
  • Have your paperwork ready. Inspectors will routinely review current and past years’ illness logs and summaries of injuries. They’ll look for OSHA job site posters, and copies of your hazard communication, lockout/tagout
    , emergency evacuation, and bloodborne pathogen.
  • OSHA inspectors will take photographs or video to document violations. You can take your own photos or videos of potential violations for your records. If you are concerned about trade secrets, let the inspector know, as inspection photos with trade secrets must be kept confidential.
  • Your employees may be interviewed in private during the inspection. Your company representatives can be present in interviews with managers or supervisors (foreman and above). After their interview, debrief employees to determine what questions were asked and the scope of the inspection.
  • Keep a record of the documents and records provided to or reviewed by the inspector.
  • Repair small violations immediately, as this demonstrates good faith and may prevent a citation.
  • During the closing conference, take notes on all of the alleged violations identified by the inspector. Be cautious when setting timelines for making corrections. Make sure you have ample time. Do not argue with the inspector but point out any obvious mistakes or disputed issues.

Setting up an OSHA visit protocol before an inspection will help make your employees more comfortable, as well as prevent mistakes. Practice the inspection protocol on regular basis to ensure that all employees know their roles.

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