Learning to Love OSHA Inspections

Do you live in fear of OSHA safety inspections? Sure, you think your ducks are more or less in a row, but the spectre of surprise inspections hovers over you like a storm cloud on the horizon.

When you clean your house thoroughly from top to bottom, doesn’t a part of you kind of wish company would drop by unexpectedly?

Can you imagine actually looking forward to a surprise OSHA inspection?

It’s easier than you think, but just as maintaining a clean house takes sustained effort, you’ll have to make thorough safety management a part of your day-to-day regime. The following tips will help you prepare for and even embrace surprise inspections:

Know Thyself: It is critical to track all safety-related information and to maintain detailed documentation on your organization’s safety record. Also, note which industry category your business falls within and whether your sector is considered high-risk. The risk factor associated with your industry is directly related to the chance OSHA inspectors will come calling.

Know your Rights: While a mutually respectful relationship between safety staff and Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHO) should be maintained during any inspection, it is also important to know that you have rights. When a CSHO arrives, politely ask him or her for their credentials. Ask why they are visiting your worksite, and if it is a complaint-related matter, ask to see the complaint. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for time to get your team in order, and to prepare whoever will be assigned to accompany the inspector around your site. Don’t use this time to scramble to cover up any safety-related gaps. Use it to ensure a smooth, seamless inspection and to remind union reps that they are entitled to be present when an inspector requests to speak with any employee one-on-one.

Lose the ‘Us vs. Them’ Mentality: Your relationship with your inspector should not be adversarial. CSHOs are really just doing their job, and their goal is safety, not citations. Above and beyond maintaining a cooperative attitude during inspections, consider proactively getting to know your local OSHA office on an ongoing basis by dropping by and even calling for advice on safety issues.

Safety is a State of Being: Safety management should be a perpetual, cyclical state of ongoing compliance and continual improvement in safety performance. Checklists, dashboards, scorecards, and reports are critical tools that ease the burden of monitoring compliance with hundreds of safety requirements. Also, a software-based safety management system is capable of reaching out to the user through automatic email notifications to proactively ensure any safety gaps are addressed before they become a concern.

Some other tips:

  • Kill the clutter: It sounds simple, but a safe worksite is a clean, clutter-free worksite. Take a regular walk around your premise. Are hallways and workspaces free and clear of obstacles and other hazards? 
  • Document like it’s going out of style: As anyone who’s fought a court case knows, the value of documentation is enormous. From minor to major safety incidents to near-misses, documents absolutely every safety-related issue that arises.
  • Safety compliance as a job requirement: Consider throwing a line into offer letters and job descriptions that denotes a commitment to safety compliance is a job requirement for every employee. Alternatively, have existing employees sign waivers expressing the fact.

If you'd like more information, this article (though a decade old) is a great guide to inspections and most of its information is up to date. Also, don't forget to review the OSHA FAQ to get acquainted with your rights, employee rights, and other interesting safety-related facts.

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