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The Guardian Fall Team Blog

It seems that a week can’t go by without the announcement of another large fine imposed by OSHA at another construction site. As I’ve mentioned before, these fines are only getting larger and inspections are becoming more and more common. On top of that, this year OSHA has implemented what they’re calling the Severe Violators Enforcement Program (SVEP). This program is intended to subject employers to more significant enforcement measures and penalties for willful, repeat, and failure-to-abate violations. It’s becoming clear that in many cases it’s not if OSHA will show up, but when. That being the case, it might be good to know a few things about what to do when OSHA shows up.

Confirm Who They Are

When OSHA comes knocking on your door, the first thing you need to do is make sure they are who they say they are. Not everyone out there is a good guy and the person in front of you could be anyone from an insurance inspector to a competitor and they just want full access to your site. Whether you are in a state that runs its own OSHA program or not, all OSHA inspectors have official credentials they can present you with to prove who they are.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if it’s at all possible, you want to be as cooperative and polite as possible. If you start treating an inspector like the enemy, odds are, he’ll start doing the same. Inspectors are like cops or anyone else in authority. Respect the authority, be polite, and don’t do anything stupid and you’ll probably be okay.

Find Out Why They Are There

It’s true that OSHA inspectors often show up just to do random inspections. However, most inspections happen because of a reason. You have every right to know what that reason is. Not only is this good information for you to have, but it will give you an idea of what they are and aren’t there for. There’s no reason to encourage them to do a wall to wall inspection if they’re just there for a specific possible violation.

Reasons for inspections are almost as varied as the violations themselves but some of the reasons include:

  • Complaints from Employees – An employee can report violations to OSHA and remain anonymous to the employer. If they sign a complaint, you’ll get an inspection within thirty days of that complaint.
  • Catastrophic Incident – If you’ve had an event occur that resulted in employees being seriously injured or killed, you can expect a visit from OSHA shortly after that. The law requires you to contact OSHA within eight hours of an employee being killed or multiple employees being hospitalized.
  • Inspection Referral – Occasionally other agencies may notice possible violations during their own inspections and can refer OSHA to your site.

Know Your Rights

It’s easy to be intimidated by OSHA Inspectors. It’s okay, in fact, it’s good to have a respect for what they’re doing. However, it’s equally important that you know what your rights are.

You Have The Right to Accompany The Inspector – You don’t have to let the inspector run all over your site on their own. You can go with them. If you see them take a picture, you take a picture too. You want to be able to bring your own evidence if you are cited.

You Have The Right to Deny The Inspector Access – You can deny access to the inspector if they do not have a warrant. You can also stop the inspection at any time if there is no warrant. Of course they’ll just come back with a warrant so there really isn’t any reason to do this unless you have violations you think you can solve within the hours or days it may take for them to get the warrant. If they do have a warrant, read it carefully so that you’re aware of what the scope of their inspection entails.

You Have The Right To Disagree – Just because an inspector says something is a violation doesn’t mean you have to agree that it is. In fact, it’s probably best that you don’t if you’re planning on contesting the violation.

Your Employees Have Rights – Employees don’t have to talk to the inspector if they don’t want to. They don’t have to sign anything. They don’t have to consent to being recorded.

After The Inspection

Once the inspection has been completed, the inspector reports his findings to the area director who will determine what if any citations will be issued. The inspector will have a meeting with you to go over the nature of any possible violations, corrective measures that can be taken, the time frame in which these measures should be implemented, and what if any possible citations might be issued.

If no violations have been found, congratulations, your workplace is safe and you have OSHA backing up that assertion.

If there have been violations found, you have a choice. You can agree to the violations, pay whatever penalty has been imposed, and make the corrective measures in the amount of time indicated.

If you do not agree, you must object in writing within fifteen working days. You may disagree with the timeframe to make corrective measures, the amount of the citation, and/or the citation itself.

Another option is that you can request an Informal Conference with the area director to go over these violations and what possible solutions there might be to them. This must be done within the fifteen working day window and is a really good option as it will give you a chance to explain your side of things and get an idea of what you’re up against.

They’re Back

Once OSHA has inspected your worksite, if violations were found, the odds of them returning increase dramatically. It’s important to note that this isn’t OSHA picking on you. This is simply OSHA making sure corrective measures have been maintained and that old habits aren’t creating old problems. While it’s easy to see OSHA as the bad guy, with the right preparations, dealing with an OSHA inspection can be just another day in the construction industry.

More Questions?

If you have more questions about OSHA compliance and what it means, don’t hesitate to contact Guardian. We’re happy to answer questions and also have training classes available if you’d like a more comprehensive look at OSHA regulations.

Important Note

If you are working in a state that runs its own OSHA plan, while they may be as effective as the Federal OSHA statutes, they can be different. While the guidelines in this article are good to keep in mind, you will want to look at any possible differences that might exist in the state run OSHA plans.