7 Things you need to know about OSHA Inspections

Providing your employees with a hazard-free work environment is a long-term investment, not a quick fix. If you’re just “checking the box” or assuming your job sites are up to code without the data to prove it, you leave your employees susceptible to an unsafe environment and your business vulnerable to costs, liability, and bad public perception.

Each day in this country, an average of 14 workers die because of job injuries. Workers who die from occupational diseases are estimated to be 50,000–60,000 each year

Reducing workplace injuries and illnesses result in direct and indirect cost savings through decreased workers compensation costs, increased productivity, and improved employee morale. Improved safety management and performance also allows for increased competition among contractors and suppliers in the bidding process for new work.

Keep reading as we discuss important ways your team can incorporate health and safety compliance into your culture and business. And, ultimately, why it’s an investment you can’t afford not to make.

Is it possible to know if my organization is in compliance with every safety regulation, before I get cited for a violation?

Given OSHA’s 250 pages of regulations, chances are good that your organization is out of compliance with at least one of those regulations or policies at any given time. That doesn’t mean, however a citation is coming your way. OSHA inspectors generally focus on the most common violations and you should too, as well as any regulations that are specific to your industry.

To lower your exposure to violations and to increase the health and safety of your work and job sites, start by prioritizing your risk. Begin by assessing the organization’s exposure to risk against OSHA’s yearly top 10 most frequently cited violations. These are the most commonly occurring violations, the biggest reasons for injury in the workplace, and the areas of greatest focus during an inspection.

The list rarely changes much from year to year (Fall Protection has held the top spot for nearly a decade), but shifts do happen. For instance, Eye and Face Protection is now at #10 for the first time.

Use this list to prioritize your safety procedures on a regular basis. Other potential violations should not be ignored but starting with the top 10 will allow your team to gain confidence on tackling the biggest potential areas for hazards.

How do I prepare my team for an OSHA inspection?

Since most OSHA inspections are surprise visits, there is nothing to prepare except to be prepared. Unsurprisingly, the companies that make safety procedures a top priority every day are the ones with the fewest citations.

Every member of your team should think of safety as a priority and know how to spot hazards (at some level), along with your safety team. Follow tried-and-true practices, such as writing down all safety procedures and programs, documenting thorough checklists, and confirming protocols are followed.

An OSHA inspector will want to see a lot of documentation. Record keeping and proof that your team has implemented the programs you have outlined is essential to avoiding being cited for violations.

What are some tips for how to direct my team to work with OSHA during an inspection?

The first step is to develop a plan for a compliance officer visit. It’s important to identify the key people (and their backups) who will participate in the inspection.

An inspector will want to speak with multiple employees, even those beyond management. All employees have the right to an open conference, meaning anyone is available to talk to an OSHA inspector. Identify who you want to accompany an OSHA inspector, but also know that anyone could be asked questions along the way. Communicating how the inspection process works ahead of time will be beneficial for making the inspection run smoothly

A company also has the right to ask for a search warrant but that is not recommended. Making an inspector go through an extra step could lead to a more rigid and extensive inspection than was originally planned.

Most OSHA attorneys and in-house counsel strongly discourage companies from providing or showing additional information that is not distinctly asked for by the inspector. During any type of inspection, if the compliance officer observes a standards violation, they are obligated to cite that violation

Is it possible to forecast when OSHA fines will increase and what will this look like?

In 2015, Congress required OSHA to increase their penalties annually to account for the cost of living similarly to other Federal agencies. For example, in January, Federal OSHA proposed changing their penalties for a serious violation from $12,934/violation to $13,260/violation to account for a 1.02522% cost of living adjustment (OSHA News Release, 2016)

While it’s difficult to anticipate exactly when OSHA might next raise the cost of violations, companies can proactively improve their chances of remaining in compliance through the adoption of safety technology and predictive analytics

How can I be sure that my vendors, suppliers, and contractors are in compliance with health and safety standards?

Fostering a culture of health and safety, beyond your organization and into the supply chain, will provide greater visibility into areas of risk. Knowing whether your vendors are in compliance with safety regulations is a priority for OSHA, so it needs to be a priority for you.
OSHA extends compliance with regulations to “multi-employer worksites.” This is a policy (not a regulation) that states that, in the event that a violation is committed by a contractor on your job site or your property, you can also be cited for the violation.
Is there a way that I can work with OSHA proactively, to avoid workplace accidents and increase safety?

OSHA offers a free consultation voluntary compliance program. In fiscal year 2018, OSHA reported that they conducted 26,000 small business consultation visits affecting facilities that employ over 1,000,000 people. It is an excellent service, but many companies do not take advantage of the opportunity for fear it will result in the launch of a formal inspection. Voluntary consultant visits will not result in citations if violations are identified. However, employers will be responsible for abating hazardous conditions that would normally be classified as serious violations. Failure to abate the serious conditions noted in the report could be cited if not abated even on a voluntary inspection.

What new regulations are potentially coming into effect in the next year or two that I should pay attention to?

OSHA is always updating their regulations, although the formal Federal process can sometimes take years. Some current proposed rules in the final stage that might affect you are Crane Operator Qualifications in Construction, Occupational Exposure to Beryllium Compounds, and Electronic Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses.

Various solutions and apps are available to help companies stay current on OSHA’s regulations. Industry publications are also a good source of news and information pertaining to OSHA.

Another area of attention is trends in safety. One trend Behavior-based Safety (BBS), has emerged in recent years as a new approach to building a culture of health and safety. The aim of BBS is to help all employees understand behaviors that lead to accidents and illness, thereby ensuring that everyone feels safe showing up to work in a low-risk environment. Some safety experts think BBS will improve safety in the workplace, while others think BBS isn’t all that effective. As a new approach, the jury is still out.

It’s important to note that many companies are now redefining “safety” to include mental health safety, looking for ways to address substance use, suicides on the job, and loss of work due to emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and other conditions. The construction field has the highest suicide rates, nearly three times the national average. There are several campaigns underway to reduce stigma and help companies get what they need to support employees during difficult times.

Creating a safety culture beyond the boundaries of the enterprise is the goal of contractor safety prequalification. When employers can verify contractors are on the same page in terms of safety and quality, everyone wins – and no one gets hit with an OSHA fine. After all, a little prevention goes a long way.

Our experience in pre-qualifying contractors against federal, local, and organizational standards spans multiple industries. Working in close quarters with leaders and experts has allowed us to gain extensive knowledge of occupational health and safety across these and many other industries.


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