Don't sit around watching the door in fear of an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Knowing your rights and how to handle the inspector can help you avoid big fines and bad publicity.
Following is information and advice from OSHA and a group of employment law experts who presented a mock inspection at the Society for Human Resourceconference earlier this year.
What triggers an inspection? The top reasons are employee complaints, major accidents, "imminent danger" or just being part of a routine, planned inspection of hazardous industries.
When the inspector arrives at your door, he should present his credentials, which you can verify by calling the local OSHA office.
You have the legal right to require him to obtain an inspection warrant before coming on site. However, this usually isn't a good idea. By making the inspector jump through the extra hoops, you could earn yourself a real white-glove inspection. It's better to be professional and open your door.
Limit scope from the start
The inspector should start by explaining why your workplace was selected for inspection, the scope of the investigation and walkaround procedures.
Ask for a copy of any complaint and be clear about the scope of the inspection. You have a right to object if an inspector looks at certain records or a machine that's not specified. Failure to object implies consent. You don't have to allow interviews with employees that interfere with production.
Don't be too eager to provide information, that can invite more problems. If you volunteer documents or information not within the initial
scope of the investigation, it gives the officer more opportunity to hunt for possible violations.
Designate one specific person to ac-company the inspector and take notes on which areas are inspected and who's interviewed.
During the walkaround, the inspector will check whether you've met posting and recordkeeping requirements, discuss possible corrective actions and talk with employees. Because the inspector may note other violations in "plain view," consider the route that you'll take.
Remember that while you might be able to correct a violation immediately, your good-faith effort won't necessarily get you off the hook completely.
Don't admit a violation
After the inspection, the official will discuss what he observed and any apparent violations. He also should inform you of your obligations and rights involving any citations.
The officer may hold a separate closing conference with employees.
Once again, don't volunteer comments or admit violations. If a violation is alleged, either say nothing or
merely promise to study the situation. If the inspector asks you how long you require to fix a problem, a reply of, say, 90 days is tantamount to admitting that the violation exists.
Ask for a receipt of all paperwork or physical samples, plus copies of all videos and photos taken. Advise the inspector if any documents or photos of work areas need to be protected because they could reveal trade secrets.
How to appeal
If you are issued a citation or notice of a proposed penalty, you can request an informal conference with the OSHA area director to discuss the case and possible settlement.
To contest a citation, abatement deadline or proposed penalty, you must file a written "Notice of Contest" with the area director within 15 working days of receiving the citation. The appeal is forwarded to an administrative law judge.
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