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Preparing For An OSHA Site Visit
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Avoiding Flooring Hazards and Complying with OSHAPt. 2: Understanding OSHA and Mitigating RisksPt. 3: This Page
OSHA provides guidance on employer and employee rights during a site inspection. In general, OSHA states that the on-site inspection begins with the presentation of the compliance officer’s credentials, including a photograph and serial number. The compliance officer will explain the reason OSHA selected the workplace for inspection and describe the scope of the inspection, walkaround procedures, employee representation, and employee interviews.
The employer then selects a representative to accompany the compliance officer during the inspection. An authorized representative of the employees, if any, also can accompany an inspector. The compliance officer will consult privately with a reasonable number of employees during the inspection.
Following the opening conference, the compliance officer and the representatives walk through the portions of the workplace covered by the inspection, inspecting for hazards that could lead to employee injury or illness. During the walkaround, compliance officers might point out apparent violations that technicians can correct immediately.
After the walkaround, the officer holds a closing conference with the employer and employee representatives. The compliance officer discusses possible courses of action an employer can take following an inspection, which could include an informal conference with OSHA or contesting citations and proposed penalties. The compliance officer also discusses consultation service options and employee rights.
When an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, he or she can issue citations and fines. OSHA must issue a citation and proposed penalty within six months of the violation’s occurrence. Violations are categorized as willful, serious, other-than-serious, de minimis, failure to abate, and repeated.
When OSHA issues a citation, it also offers the employer an opportunity for an informal conference with the OSHA area director to discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates, and other information pertinent to the inspection. Managers should recognize that the informal conference is an opportunity to negotiate down the category level of a violation, penalty amounts, and hazard-abatement methods.
The OSHA area director and employer typically reach a settlement to resolve the matter and eliminate the hazards. OSHA’s primary goal is correcting hazards and maintaining compliance, not issuing citations or collecting penalties.
Optionally, managers have 15 working days after receiving the citations and proposed penalties to formally contest the alleged violations or penalties by sending a written notice to the area director. OSHA forwards the contest to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for independent review. This step typically involves legal counsel and can involve significant expense.
Jeff Camplin, CSP, CET — firstname.lastname@example.org — is president of Camplin Environmental Services Inc., a safety and environmental consulting firm in Rosemont, Ill.