How to skate through an OSHA inspection

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Preventing Workplace Violence

The federal government is cranking up its workplace safety inspections, especially targeting repeat offenders and companies with unusually high reports of workplace injuries and illnesses.

In fiscal 2003, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted 39,817 inspections, a 6 percent increase over the previous year. (See chart at right.)

In those inspections last year, OSHA found 83,539 total safety violations, an 8 percent increase over fiscal 2002. The agency also slapped 404 companies with "willful violations" (the most costly penalty), a 22 percent increase over the previous year.

To avoid an inspection in the first place, run a safe business or be in a "safe" industry. (See box below, right.) But if you are targeted, here are five pieces of advice to help you avoid big fines and bad publicity:

1. Assign one specific person to hold the recordkeeping job, maintain up-to-date written programs and speak with any safety inspectors. During an inspection, that person should stay with the inspector and take notes on what's inspected and who's interviewed.

2. Limit the scope of an inspection. At the opening conference, inquire about the visit's purpose and scope. Keep a copy of the warrant (if there is one) during the inspection. You hold the 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, if it will interfere with production.

3. Don't admit a violation. If one is alleged, say nothing or that you'll study the situation. If the inspector asks how long you require for abatement, a reply of, say, 90 days is tantamount to admitting that a violation exists.

4. Ask for a receipt for all paperwork or physical samples, plus copies of all videos and photographs taken. Audiotape the closing meeting.

5. If you're selected for reinspection, insist on limiting the investigation to those previous violations. Otherwise, new officers may cite any hazard in plain view.

Final note: Don't wait for the inspector's knock before obtaining a copy of OSHA's booklet, Employer Rights and Responsibilities Following an OSHA Inspection. Find it at www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3000.pdf (use capital letter) or order a free, hard copy by calling (800) 321-6742.

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