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How to survive an OSHA audit

January 10, 2014
| By Jim Rhoad |
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Even with the 7 million workplaces it covers each year, OSHA will likely find its way to your location.

Plan for an inspection by making sure you have three key items in place prior to the arrival of the OSHA compliance officer: a determination if you will ask for a warrant; a form to document what occurs during the inspection; and all pertinent documentation such as written programs, training records, inspection records, etc.

We recommend you do not require a warrant before entry unless you need to gain time, such as when a manager or counsel needs to be present. It is your legal right to ask for a warrant, but this might trigger a stricter audit.

Be prepared. These inspections are without notice so you will want to have all information readily available in anticipation of an impending audit. Items to have ready include: documented training logs; recordkeeping; equipment inspection records; safety and health policies; insurance and third-party audits; hazard assessment and abatement; and previous audits and citations.

It is also wise to record the inspector's actions and comments during the inspection. This information will help you understand what transpired and will assist your attorney should you contest the citation or penalty.

Almost all OSHA inspections begin with a review of written documents. These documents include your injury and illness records, safety manual, OSHA-required programs, OSHA-implied programs, safety procedures and training records. There are many records and written programs OSHA does not specifically require to be in writing, but you should have them anyway. These documents are referred to as OSHA-implied records.

Here’s what to expect during an OSHA audit:

The knock at the door. We recommend escorting the compliance officer to your office or waiting area. This will give you time to gather your documents and “greeting team.”

The opening conference. The officer will explain why OSHA selected your work place for inspection and describe the scope of the inspection. Have your “greeting team” here to accompany the CO during the inspection. Make sure you set ground rules for the inspection, get a copy of the complaint if applicable, treat the CO in a professional fashion, coordinate with on-site contractors and vendors and bring up any trade secret issuesyou may have.

The walk-around/inspection. Make sure you have an employee representative attend the entire inspection and take accurate notes on areas reviewed and all discussions and comments from the CO, as well as any photos, videos, air monitoring, etc. Remember, it’s your facility and you have rights. Don’t be bullied, but also don’t try to talk your way out of an apparent hazard. And above all, don’t destroy evidence.

The CO may want to interview employees. Make sure to schedule these interviews away from your work area. It’s up to hourly employees if they want company representation during the interview. Advise the employee of his/her rights, your appreciation of their cooperation, and to tell the truth. As for management and supervisor interviews, always have another management/counsel present during the interview. If there is a fatality investigation, your attorney should be present.

The closing conference. The CO will review any apparent violations and discuss possible methods for correcting them. The CO will explain that the violations found may result in a citation and a proposed financial penalty, then describe the employer’s rights and answer all questions. Remember, this is not a time for debate.

Citations are usually prepared at the local OSHA office and mailed to the employer via certified mail. OSHA has up to six months to send a Notice of Penalty. Employers have 15 working days upon receipt to file an intention to contest OSHA citations, and/or to request an informal conference with the area director to discuss any citations issued.

Finally, contesting may not relieve you of a penalty, but it may help you negotiate a lesser fine.

Jim Rhoad is an outsource risk manager with Ottawa Kent Insurance in Jenison. He can be reached at Jrhoad@ottawakent.com.

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