It seems like everyone has a list. Here are four that I thought had some good advice. My #1 tip is use state consultation.....
(Two OSHA inspectors provided these tips at the American Society of Safety Engineers’ 2010 annual conference in MD.)
- Don’t make me wait. It just tells me you’re not ready. Nothing you can do at the last minute is going to make much difference anyway. (However, you do have the right to ask for up to an hour to have your Safety Manager or Safety Consultant get to your workplace.)
- It’s best to be open with me.
- Don’t try to block my line of site by bringing a bunch of employees along on the walk-through. I’ll wait until I get to see what I want to see. Some of us use digital cameras. Some of us even videotape the inspection.
- Be prepared to answer questions. Have all required OSHA documents, including those outlining safety plans, ready for me.
- Don’t discourage employees from talking to me. I’ll talk to them one way or another. I find ways to slip employees my business card, and once I do, they usually call. If necessary, I’ll get a subpoena to talk to your employees.
- Don’t lie to me. That makes me angry.
- Think about hazards, not just standards, when you evaluate your workplace for safety. I look for hazards, not standard violations.
- Have your training documents in order. I do look at them. If you have Hispanic employees, make sure you have documentation that they understood your safety training.
- Plan ahead and designate a person or people who will meet with me. Make sure the person is prepared. It doesn’t matter to me whether you have a full-time safety manager or not. That doesn’t make me any tougher or easier on a company.
- Check out OSHA’s Field Operations Manual for inspectors. It’s a great resource to prepare any company for the possibility of an OSHA inspection.
1. First impressions matter
Several OSHA inspectors told us the first five minutes matter most, and determine whether you’re in for a long day (or months, in some cases) or a short inspection. Two things that impress OSHA inspectors immediately:
- A bound, updated, well-thumbed copy of the safety plan. A company that’s taken the time to publish its safety plan (even in a notebook) takes safety seriously. Being able to quickly show the OSHA inspector your plan during the opening meeting will make the inspection go more smoothly. If you can’t find it, the OSHA inspector may get suspicious.
- No obvious violations. The facility or work site is clean and organized, and there isn’t an immediate violation apparent. If you think there may be a problem, call that section of the plant or work site and have employees focus on cleanup.
2. Understand why OSHA’s there
It helps to know why OSHA has shown up. Ask the OSHA inspector during the opening meeting what brought them to your site. Did they get a complaint?
If so, you should have received notice of it already and had an opportunity to correct it. If you’ve corrected it, show the OSHA inspector your fixes and related documentation. Sometimes workers complain again if they don’t like the fix or want to get back at your company, but OSHA will make its own judgment about the fix.
If it’s a random inspection, they’re probably looking for hazards specific to your region or industry. Know ahead of time what they are and be prepared to explain your safety procedures (including documented enforcement) to the inspector.
If you look like you’re prepared to answer questions, OSHA will likely trust those answers more.
3. Document the inspection
Don’t rely on OSHA inspectors to give you their materials. Have your own camera ready and take the same pictures, from the same angles, that the OSHA inspector does.
You can’t stop OSHA from interviewing employees and supervisors, but you can be present during the interview. Take your own notes. Whatever the OSHA inspector writes down, you write down.
Having your own documentation of the inspection ensures that there will be fewer facts in dispute later on, and will keep the inspector on his or her toes. (Be polite while doing this, of course.)
4. Make fixes immediately
The OSHA inspector may suggest safety fixes. If so, stop work and have workers fix the problems immediately.
Quick response shows you take safety seriously. If it’s a first offense and you otherwise show good faith, the inspector may just give you a warning.
- instructing a worker to enable a machine guard
- clearing a blocked exit, aisleway, or corridor, and/or
- having a worker tie off when using his fall-arrest system.
Bottom line: It’s OK to make quick fixes. It doesn’t show guilt – instead it shows your willingness to cooperate and your commitment to safety.
5. Don’t complain, argue or agree
Answer only the questions the inspector asks. Don’t complain, argue or agree. Stick to factual answers, such as, “This is our procedure.” Or, “We respond to violations with this system.”
Staying focused (and not admitting guilt or explaining excessively) helps the inspection go more smoothly and doesn’t give the inspector ammo to use later in OSHA court.
It also doesn’t make the inspector defensive or bring his or her attention to problems he hasn’t thought of.
Top 10 Things Every Young CSHO Needs to Know Before They are Let Loose on the World.
- Never Lie. Beyond the moral and ethical aspects of honesty is a practical one, if you get caught lying during deposition or as a witness, you are done professionally. You probably won’t be fired, but every opposing attorney in the area will know what you’ve done and your contest rate will skyrocket. Every DOL attorney will know what you’ve done and they will never take one of your cases to court again, you will have every contested case tossed out.
- Follow the Evidence. Just because you’ve seen something 20 times, doesn’t mean you know what happened the 21st time. Investigate! Use your powers of observation and deductive reasoning to figure out what’s happening every single time as if you’ve never seen the situation before. Very few things are as professionally embarrassing as admitting to a judge that you assumed something.
- Actively listen. When you interview employees don’t go into the interview determined to get yes or no answers to all of your questions. Even if all of the physical evidence gives a clear picture, ask open ended questions and listen not for the words you want to hear, but for words you didn’t expect. Not only will this give you a fuller picture, but you may discover bigger issues.
- Always Keep Your Head on a Swivel. It’s scary how often the forklift operator “didn’t see you” standing there with you hardhat, reflective vest and 9 company reps (all of whom happened to make eye contact with the driver), and suspended loads have a mysterious habit of dropping to shoulder height just as they get close to you.
- Never give advanced notice. This is one of the things that can actually send us to jail, and although I’ve never heard of people actually going to jail, I have heard of people being “reassigned” to other duties, for the rest of their career.
- Never Argue with a Team Member in Public. It’s OK to disagree with fellow CSHOs, it can actually be good for the inspection even, but don’t do it where the company can hear you. If you publicly disagree and the company hears you, they then have an avenue for contesting any citations and you’ll hear “they couldn’t even agree that it was a violation,” in front of the judge.
- Never Equivocate on the Stand or During Deposition. When you’re under oath be firm, “This IS what I saw,” not “I’m pretty sure I saw this.” It’s OK to say “I don’t know,” or “I don’t remember, I would need to check my notes or the video.” If you equivocate, you have just introduced doubt, and if the compliance officer is in doubt, what way do you think the judge will rule? Just remember Rule #1 – Never Lie.
- Never Get Angry. No matter how passionate you are, no matter how abusive the employer is, never get angry. If you’re in a situation that is escalating, find a way out of the room, you can not win that argument but you can make it worse.
- Understand Their Anger. A lot of anger directed at you is fake, especially that from opposing attorneys, they’re either testing you or trying to intimidate you so you won’t be as effective. Sometimes people are angry at getting caught doing something they weren’t supposed to (remember fight or flight?). Some people are angry for reasons that have nothing to do with you. There are other possibilities as well, but if you understand the anger you have a chance to diffuse it. Just don’t forget rule #8 - Never Get Angry.
- You Can Never Have Too Many Charged Batteries. This is especially true for equipment junkies, as most IHs seem to be. It’s almost a rite of passage that every new CSHO will, at some point, forget the extra batteries in the middle of the inspection. With any luck the batteries will be in the car instead of back at the office or hotel. When this happens, expect much ridicule, especially from us old timers who have never done anything like that ourselves (I write hoping a bolt of lightening doesn’t strike).
Companies should also prepare a plan for OSHA inspections that sets out orderly procedures to follow
when an inspector arrives. Here are some highlights of best practices:
1. Companies should have a manager designated in advance to represent it during an OSHA inspection, which typically occurs on a surprise basis. A company representative well-versed in OSHA procedures and your safety program is critical to having your company’s interests well-represented during the inspection. Ideally, this should be your company’s safety director, if you have one, or someone else in upper management. The company representative should be present during every part of the OSHA inspection. If the designated company representative is not available when the inspector arrives, the inspector usually will be willing to wait for up to an hour. But be sure to have a backup representative identified. If necessary, the backup can communicate by phone with the designated representative as the inspection proceeds.
2. Companies should take advantage of the opening conference, which typically occurs right after an inspector arrives, to discuss what will happen during the inspection and understand its scope. You are free to ask the inspector questions. You might inquire as to what prompted the inspection and whether there is a written complaint. If so, ask to see the complaint. Make sure you understand the intended scope of the inspection. The inspector may be there to examine only a portion of your operation. While the inspector can follow up on other issues that are in plain view, you are not otherwise obligated to allow a limited scope inspection to become a full-blown review of your facility. The inspector will most likely ask to see company records. Ask for the request in writing so there is no later misunderstanding about what the inspector wanted.
3. The company representative should always accompany the OSHA inspector during the walk-around inspection. The company representative should take notes of what happens during the inspection and should photograph or videotape the same things that the OSHA inspector does. The representative should make note of all measurements and samples taken and the names of all workers and managers who are interviewed. The company representative should take the same measurements and samples as the inspector, either at the same time or immediately after. Your notes, photographs, measurements, and samples may prove to be very helpful should the inspector issue a citation or violation.
4. Inform non-supervisory workers that they have the right to speak or not to speak with the inspector and give them an idea of what kinds of questions the inspector is likely to ask. Employers cannot prevent OSHA from speaking to non-supervisory employees, and those employees have the right to speak with the inspector outside the presence of the company representative. However, you can give employees a heads-up on what to expect, so long as it is not done in such a way as to put pressure on them. You can tell non-supervisory employees that they have the right to speak or not to speak with the inspector. You can also advise employees of what the inspector is likely to ask. Additionally, employees have the right to record their sessions with inspectors. You should, of course, always advise employees to tell the truth. You may also conduct a voluntary debriefing of employees after they speak with the inspector. The situation for managers and supervisors is different. A company has the right to have its representative sit in on all interviews with supervisors and manage. The company should always exercise this right, especially since statements by managers and supervisors can legally bind the company. Supervisors and managers should be prepared in advance for their interviews, if possible.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions at the closing conference, which takes place at the end of the inspection. If your company is being cited, ask what specificstandards are involved and how they are classified (serious, repeat, etc.) Inquire what the penalty might be. Avoid admitting to violations at the conference. There may be defenses to the violations that are not immediately apparent.
Bottom line ... Advance preparation is essential to achieving the best possible outcome from an OSHA inspection. The tipsmentioned above provide some highlights, but you maywish to speak with an occupational safety and healthconsultant or your attorney to discuss other aspects of an effective plan to prepare for inspections.