OSHA Inspection Process: What It Entails
OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The OSHA inspection process is designed to verify and ensure that workplace safety standards are adhered to. It’s the reason that inspections are almost always conducted without advance notice.
OSHA sums up its mission in a fact sheet, which you can see here. In it, OSHA writes: “OSHA is committed to strong, fair, and effective enforcement of safety and health requirements in the workplace. OSHA inspectors, called compliance safety and health officers, are experienced, well-trained industrial hygienists and safety professionals whose goal is to assure compliance with OSHA requirements and help employers and workers reduce on-the-job hazards and prevent injuries, illnesses, and deaths in the workplace.”
OSHA rarely provides advance notice of an inspection. When they do, it’s typically for one of the following four reasons.
- Imminent danger, so that management can correct the problem immediately.
- When an inspection must take place after normal business hours or in cases where special preparations are necessary.
- If employers and employees are not expected to be on-site unless they’re notified.management and worker representatives are not likely to be on-site unless they
- When the OSHA Area Director thinks “a more complete inspection would result, such as in a fatality investigation.”
Checklists and Process
As you might imagine, there is an extraordinary number of items on the safety checklist of a manufacturing plant or warehouse. Think of how many moving parts there are in an efficient and highly functioning plant. Now think of how many people are required to operate all that machinery and equipment.
It really is an amazing undertaking — both the operation of a manufacturing entity and the course of the inspection process itself. Both serve to ensure the safety of workers.
Thus, we’re fortunate that a regulatory agency such as OSHA exists to keep track of all that movement and make sure workers are protected and aware of the role they play in maintaining their own safety and wellbeing.
Of course, the OSHA inspection process also informs project and plant managers of the importance of day-to-day safety standards and regulations.
OSHA standards for workplace safety are designed in good faith so that employers and employees can act and work in good faith and with peace of mind. This keeps businesses running and the economy humming while protecting workers.
In other words, we’re all in this together. When inspections are conducted, it’s up to everybody to understand the scope of the inspections and the final orders, if any.
Secondly, it’s also up to everybody to familiarize themselves with problems that may rise to the level of imminent danger, thereby opening the business up to proposed penalties and the possibility of contesting the citation.
OSHA Inspection Priorities
OSHA prioritizes its inspection resources like this:
- Imminent danger situations, i.e., “hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm.”
- Severe injuries and illnesses, as well as work-related fatalities and “inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, or losses of an eye.”
- Worker complaints
- Referrals of hazards, i.e., from “federal, state or local agencies, individuals, organizations or the media.”
- Targeted inspections for “specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses.”
- Follow-up inspections
With regular, programmed inspections, OSHA officials can head off any problems before they arise and double-check that previous problems have been corrected.
During an OSHA inspection, the compliance officer will preside over an opening conference announcing the reason for his inspection; a walkaround inspection; and a closing conference summarizing his findings. In some cases, the business will partake in an informal conference afterward, during which, according to OSHA, “the compliance officer discusses possible courses of action an employer may take following an inspection.”
With an internal team tasked with regular safety enforcement and reviews, there should be no surprises when it comes time for the next OSHA inspection. Consistently enforced safety standards and reviews also help keep employers and employees informed of new OSHA rules.
Employers are always encouraged post-OSHA inspection to consider contesting citations and proposed penalties, if any, and informing employees of their rights and access to consultation services.