If OSHA happens to show up at one of your jobsites or one that you are working on; do you know how to handle the inspection? Let’s face it, if OSHA shows up it’s not like an old friend ringing your doorbell to catch up; they’re there to potentially fine your firm. The key to getting through an OSHA visit effectively is to have an appropriate plan in place prior to the visit taking place, Prior to arriving on a new worksite check with the owner of the property or the general contractor if you are a subcontractor to determine what the safety procedures are for that site. More times than not, the GC or owner will require you to develop a site-specific safety plan. Even if they don’t require one, it’s in your best interest to create one for many reasons, one being OSHA may ask for it. Site-specific plans must include vital information on procedures to follow in case of an injury, accident, severe weather or even an accidental chemical release.
Initially you should review any “prevention plan” in place on-site. This plan is essentially your site-specific health and safety plan. The plan should provide good communication to employees on any potential safety concerns and risks to be found. Some of the items that should be included in the plan are proper ppe (personal protective equipment), safe ladders and scaffolds use and education on chemicals either handling or awareness with the Safety Data Sheets for all chemicals used on site.
If you have a worker who sustains an injury on site, OSHA has specific reporting requirements that must be followed. Employers must report any worker fatality within 8 hours. If an employee suffers an amputation (including partial), loss of an eye, or an accident requiring hospitalization a report must be filed with OSHA within 24 hours.
If an OSHA inspector arrives on site either announce or unannounced; there are a few steps, you can take to take support a favorable outcome. Frist ensure the OSHA representative has proper credentials to identify who they are. You can restrict the admittance of the inspector until management or the designated safety officer is on site. OSHA representatives are accustomed to waiting for management personnel to show up before they can begin. The audit will begin with an opening conference where the OSHA representative will detail to you what their concerns are and what brought the out to your location in the first place. Common reasons for an audit are employee compliant, your company is on the emphasis program list or you recently had an accident they are following up on. If an employee safety representative or liaison hasn’t’ been determined one will have to be identified. If the inspection is focused on a specific area or locations, you should do as much as possible to limit the scope of the inspection to that area. We limit the places they can go because anything they see that is a regulatory infraction will be written up. Don’t offer additional information than what the inspector has requested. Answer the inspector’s questions to the best of your knowledge but again, don’t overshare. One thing we hear many people doing is taking pictures of the same things OSHA does; but why? IF they find and issue and take a picture of it, they will certainly give you a copy of the picture. You are taking an exact picture will not stop them for citing it! In fact, we have seen many cases where the OSHA inspector’s camera broke and they subpoenaed the safety managers camera as they knew he took replica pictures as well.
In 2017 OSHA increased their rate structure for fines by 78%. Rates had not been increased prior to that since 1990. There are several classifications for fines and can be categorized as: A serious violation carries a maximum penalty of $13,260; Failure to abate fines are $13,260 per day beyond the date OSHA gave as a deadline for corrective actions/abatement; Willful or repeated violations carry a charge of $132,598 per violation.
Once you have received your citation you will have 15 days to accept it as written or contest it. There are very specific timelines from the opening conference (when OSHA is onsite) to the closing conference (OSHA will provide a wrap-up). The time in the middle of these dates are crucial and it is during this period that your team can make corrective actions in a good faith effort to rectify the unsafe conditions. If you demonstrate to OSHA that you have followed their guidance and have completed recommendations to their fulfillment you should receive a reduced fine.
Having your logs up to date for accidents/injuries training and industrial hygiene if applicable will assist in a lesser offense/fine or even no fine at all. At the end of the day, if you have developed a culture of safety, trained your employees, have good policies and procedures that are kept current and most importantly have a plan on how to deal with an auditor you have put yourself in the best position for a favorable outcome from your OSHA visit.
References: www.ehstoday.com; www.osha.gov ; www.fisherphillips.com