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OSHA inspector on the way! How to prepare, how to respond

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An unexpected visit from an OSHA inspector is often unwelcome—and unsettling, too. But if you’ve taken the time to prepare, it need not be traumatic.

Planning ahead will smooth the inspection process—and put you in control of it. Plus, being prepared may make a good impression on the inspector, which could lead to being cited for fewer violations.

What triggers an inspection?

Most OSHA inspections come with little or no warning. Workplace safety experts say 60% to 70% of OSHA inspections are prompted by employee complaints.

Other “surprise” inspections occur after accidents, such as fires, explosions or workplace fatalities. Finally, OSHA regularly inspects businesses engaged in industries and activities that traditionally experience high numbers of employee injuries and illnesses.

Before inspectors arrive

Two simple steps are perhaps the most crucial to passing an OSHA inspection. First, keep all your safety and health documents up-to-date and maintain them so they are easy for inspectors to review. They have the right to request copies of any OSHA-required documents. (See box below.)

Second, appoint one person who is fully trained on your safety and health procedures to talk with the inspector and escort him or her around the facility. Make it a policy: only that person may conduct such a tour.

Note: OSHA inspectors have the authority to interview employees without any member of management present.

6 steps for success

When an OSHA inspector knocks on your door, here’s how to decrease the odds of being penalized:

1. Anticipate safety and health issues if possible, and have a response prepared.

2. Be proactive. Ask what prompted the inspection. Inquire about the inspector’s concerns during the inspection.

3. Control the route the inspector takes through the facility. Although the inspector has the right to visit every part of your premises, you don’t have to go out of your way to show off every corner.

4. Don’t be pressured. If the inspector asks a question or requests a document that you are unsure of or uncomfortable about, stop. Take the time to consult a superior—or an attorney. Don’t feel you have to always provide an instant response. You don’t.

5. Don’t volunteer or admit noncompliance. You should, however, cooperate with the inspector.

6. Seek resolution. The inspector will typically hold a closing conference with you before leaving. This is an opportunity to discuss potential citations and try to resolve them then and there. It’s perfectly legitimate to ask what penalties, if any, the inspector anticipates. If possible, volunteer to correct deficiencies immediately. When appropriate, articulate why an apparent deficiency does not deserve a formal citation.

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