Safety and Health Article Archive

Surviving an OSHA Inspection

By David F. Coble, CSP

"Good morning. I'm from OSHA and I'm here to help you," the inspector from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says. And the way he or she helps you is by conducting an inspection or investigation of your office or plant and issuing citations and penalties for the violations found.

I was one of these "helpers" for nearly 12 years and was involved in hundreds of OSHA inspections, accident and fatality investigations, and employee complaint reviews. In this position, I learned what companies should do to be prepared for an OSHA inspection and much more importantly, to improve and organize their safety and health programs.

I have several suggestions on how to deal with an OSHA inspection. In this article I will discuss planning for an inspection, how to prepare written documents for OSHA, and the most frequently cited violations.

Planning for an inspection

There are three key items you should do prior to the arrival of the OSHA inspector:

  1. Determine if you will ask for a warrant.
  2. Have ready a form to document what occurs during the inspection.
  3. Assemble pertinent documentation such as written programs, training records, inspection records, etc.

I recommend you do not require the OSHA inspector to obtain a warrant before entry unless there are extraordinary circumstances, such as national defense secrets. I never minded when an employer threatened to make me get a warrant before beginning an inspection. After all, it's his legal right. However, the curiosity about what he didn't want me to see would make me look at his facility more closely during the inspection.

I advise that you simply work with the inspector. Answer questions honestly and fully, but don't offer additional information unless it obviously will help you avoid citations. Cooperate as long as the inspector remains ethical and reasonable. On the other hand, if your attorney gives different advice, remember it's the attorney who will be defending you.

My next suggestion is to develop or obtain a form to record the inspector's actions and comments during the inspection. This information will help you understand what transpired, and will assist the corporate office and your attorney should you contest the citation or penalty.

Items you should record include:

  • the inspector's name and office telephone number
  • the documents that the inspector reviewed and copied
  • The attendees at the opening and closing conferences
  • the areas that were inspected
  • the employees and union representatives who participated
  • the dates and times when the inspector was on site.

Finally, OSHA requires or implies you keep quite a few documents and written programs. Just knowing where these documents are kept and producing them quickly will impress the inspector. For this reason, I recommend that you develop a record-retention policy, which is simply a list of activities, such as training and inspections and OSHA-required programs. Beside each activity, state the type of record kept, such as a tag, log or color-coded tape; where the record can be found, such as in the safety office or attached to the equipment; and how long these records will be retained. Here is an example.
TABLE 1 -- Sample Retention Log
Item Type of Record Where Kept Retention Period
Crane load capacity tests Certification Engineering Permanent
Lockout Training Certification Personnel Employment plus 10 years
Ladder Inspections Color coded tape On ladder Until next inspection
Eyewashes Tag On eyewash Six months
Bloodborne pathogens program Safety procedure Safety office Permanent

Written documents

Almost all OSHA inspections begin with a review of written documents. These documents include your injury and illness records, safety manual, OSHA-required programs, OSHA-implied programs, safety procedures, training records and medical surveillance records.

There are many records and written programs that OSHA does not specifically require to be in writing, but you should have them anyway. I call these documents OSHA-implied records and programs.

For example, although OSHA required every employer to conduct frequent ladder inspections, there is no specific requirement to keep a written record of ladder inspections. Every employer should record the inspections to properly manage their safety and health program, as well as to show OSHA a good faith attempt to comply with the standards. The written record in this case could be a log of all ladders with initials and dates of inspection or a tag attached to the ladder with spaces for the inspector to initial and date.

Another example of an "implied" requirement is a policy on employee access to their exposure and medical records. Every employee, former employee and their authorized representatives have a right to obtain, at no cost, a copy of any personal exposure or medical records within 15 working days of the request.

Table 2 is a partial list of OSHA required and implied written programs that you should develop and implement.
TABLE 2 -- 29 CFR 1910 General Industry OSHA Standards Requiring or Implying the Need for OSHA Compliance
# 29 CFR 1910 Description Required/
Assigned to: Effective?
1 .20 Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records I    Yes  /  No
2 .23 Fall Protection Program I    Yes  /  No
3 .38 Employee Emergency Plan and Fire Prevention Plans R    Yes  /  No
4 .95(c) Hearing Conservation Program R    Yes  /  No
5 .119 Hazardous Chemical Program R    Yes  /  No
6 .138 Respirator Protection Program R    Yes  /  No
7 .151 Medical Services and First Aid I    Yes  /  No
8 .307 Electrical Hazardous Locations I    Yes  /  No
9 .1030 Bloodborne Pathogens R    Yes  /  No

Most frequently cited violations

After developing and implementing the aforementioned programs, procedures, training, inspections, etc., another procedure must be implemented to recognize, evaluate and control unsafe conditions and unsafe employee actions. There are two places to start:

  • employee injury and illness records
  • most frequently cited OSHA violations

Conduct a root-cause analysis for all reported injuries, work-related illnesses, and near misses to determine if controls have been implemented to prevent recurrence. Look for trends such as several eye injuries or back injuries, and look especially at minor injuries and near misses that could have been severe injuries had luck not prevented them from being worse. The OSHA inspector will do this type of analysis and you should too.

Another step to improve conditions and employee actions is to concentrate on controlling the most frequently cited OSHA violations. These violations are ones that normally can cause injury and illness, can result in high penalties, and are items that practically every OSHA inspector focuses on. I recommend you implement a policy to conduct a thorough safety inspection every month on each department. This inspection must be conducted by trained and competent individuals.

Table 3 is a list of the 10 most frequently cited OSHA violations in manufacturing and examples of the types of violations that occur.

TABLE 3 -- Ten most frequently cited OSHA standards in the manufacturing industry
#    Standard    Subject Violation
1 1910.147 C Lockout/Tagout of hazardous energy No program; no procedures
2 1910.1200 E Written hazard communication program No program; not site specific
3 1910.212 A Machine Guarding Point of operation guards do not meet Table 0-10, or otherwise not effective
4 1910.1200 H Training on hazardous chemicals Not specific, or not done
5 1200 F Labels on hazardous chemicals Hazard warning and/or name of chemical not on label.
6 1904.2 A Employee injury/illness log Not recorded properly or at all
7 1910.1200 G Material Safety Data Sheets Not available or accessible
8 1910.219 E Guarding belts, ropes and chain drives No guard, or inadequate; does not meeting ANSI B15.1
9 1910.20 G Access to employee medical records Training not done
10 1910.215 B Guarding abrasive wheel machinery Tongue guard 7.25 inch or missing

No one individual or safety department should be expected to develop, implement, audit and maintain a safety and healthful workplace or compliance with the OSHA standards. There aren't enough hours in the day, nor does one person have all the knowledge necessary. As a result, many companies are employing a team approach to managing OSHA compliance.

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