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Preparing For and Surviving an OSHA Inspection

Nov 19, 2007
The primary responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is to develop and enforce health and safety standards that protect workers in the workplace. It has mandatory power to audit organizations for compliance of health and safety standards. OSHA conducts workplace inspections to make certain that employers are complying with the standards and providing a safe and healthful workplace.

OSHA inspectors, called compliance and safety officers, carry out these inspections/audits. These may be carried out due to accidents, fatalities, situations of imminent danger, complaints and referrals or as a follow-up investigation. An OSHA audit can be a tedious and stressful experience for employers since the agency is empowered to impose penalties on those who are in violation of the standards. This is particularly true for small businesses that may not have the wherewithal to be in full OSHA compliance.

Generally, an employer who takes proactive action (and the associated pains) to try and adhere to mandated requirements will fare much better during such OSHA inspections. A little known fact for many employers is that compliance officers normally research the history of a worksite before an inspection. Therefore it pays to work with the inspectors and answer questions fully and honestly, rather than adopt stalling tactics. Actions like insisting on an inspection warrant, to buy time, can turn out to be counterproductive in the end.

Every workplace is unique; no universal formula can be prescribed for negotiating an OSHA audit unscathed. However, attention to some basic details can help immensely:

First, having an effective safety and health program which lays down the policies, procedures and practices for protection against occupational safety and health hazards helps to develop the proper mindset. Depending upon the type industry and the complexity of operations, these programs may even include a Processes Safety Management (PSM) program mandated by the 29 CFR 1910.119 OSHA Standards. A written program should be communicated to all employees.

Second, coaching employees on health and safety, including OSHA compliant training, should be routine. Proper training is necessary to insure that workers understand potential hazards as well as practice safe working methods.

Third, it is important for companies to stress employee participation in safe practices. Active employee involvement can greatly enhance compliance to OSHA standards.

Fourth, it is imperative that businesses have a written hazard communication program. This is particularly important in industries handling hazardous chemicals. The complexity of the program will obviously depend upon the specific needs of the worksite. It may range from a simple collation of information from Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), to a comprehensive OSHA mandated program in line with the 29 CFR 1910.1200 Standard.

Fifth, periodic self inspections and compliance audits will help to identify violations and allow corrective action to be taken. Earlier cases of accidents or injuries, if any, can also be analyzed for possible preventive measures. This will minimize the likelihood of being cited for violations during OSHA audits.

Record keeping is one of the most important tools for providing proof of a company's efforts to comply with an OSHA inspector. The scope of documentation is wide and the more accurately records are maintained; the better it is for audits. Examples of relevant documentation would be accident reports, injury and illness reports, exposure records (hazmat exposure, noise exposure, etc where applicable), past inspections and action-taken reports, as well as employee training records.

All these steps will lessen the stress of an OSHA inspection and reduce the odds of receiving citations and penalties. As an OSHA fact sheet states, "OSHA's primary goal is correcting hazards and maintaining compliance, rather than issuing citations or collecting penalties."
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