Stages of an OSHA inspection
An OSHA inspection consists generally of six stages; and each stage of the inspection affords the employer a chance to control its exposure to OSHA violations. In abiding by the advice provided below, the employer reduces the probability of a citation or at least enhances its ability to contest and moderate citations.
1. Opening conference
Though all stages of an OSHA inspection are important, the opening conference provides the employer the best opportunity to limit the scope and duration of the inspection. The inspection begins when the CSHO arrives and displays his credentials. If the CSHO does not readily offer his credentials, the employer should ask to see them. Employers should insist that an opening conference take place if the CSHO attempts to skip this stage. The CSHO should begin the conference by explaining the intended purpose, scope and duration of the inspection, and identifying the impetus for choosing to inspect this workplace. The employer should ask about the purpose and scope of the inspection if the CSHO does not volunteer that information.
The employer should also address the warrant issue depending on the CSHO’s willingness to negotiate the scope. Consent is preferable where the CSHO is willing to discuss the matter and come to a mutually agreeable scope of inspection. The employer should know in advance who will participate in the opening conference and designate a location for the conference, employee interviews, and a work space for OSHA if the inspection will continue for multiple days. Finally, establish document request and interview protocols during the opening conference. Specifically, request the CSHO provide document requests in writing and schedule interviews in advance to avoid business disruption.
2. Document production
The CSHO will also request documents and information from the employer throughout the inspection. The employer should insist on written requests for all documents (except the 300 Logs/300A Forms, because the law requires the production of these records within four hours). A written request allows the employer to analyze the request for objections, gives the employer more time to respond to the CSHO’s requests, and permits the employer to track the requests and the documents produced. It also allows the employer to more carefully parse the words of the request, and provide only the records requested.
The employer should review all requested documents for responsiveness, privilege, and trade secret or confidential business information, and designate information that must be maintained as confidential. The employer should make sure that OSHA understands all relevant facts, but should not generate records to respond to a document request. During the inspection, it is imperative to remove documents from plain sight. Finally, keep a duplicate set of all documents produced to OSHA, and maintain a Document Control Log to track the status of the document production.
3. Walkaround inspection
A management representative should accompany the CSHO at all times during the walkaround inspection. The CSHO should be escorted at all times to ensure that he abides by all company safety rules, to control the flow of information, to gather intelligence on the focus of the inspection, and to ensure the areas visited during the walkaround are strictly limited to the agreed upon scope of the inspection. The CSHO may take photos, video recordings, samples, identify hazards and make suggestions. The employer representative should take detailed notes of the CSHO’s actions, and mimic those actions to ensure the employer has the same data. Have a camera ready and take side-by-side pictures or video. Ask for advance notice prior to any sampling, and fix any hazards identified as soon as possible, but do not admit to violations. If the inspection will last more than one day, request a brief meeting at the end of each day to ask about concerns, interview intentions and tasks for the next visit.