OP-ED: Five Steps for Employers to Take Before Their Next OSHA Inspection
Daily Journal of Commerce Oregon
The pandemic has shined a bright light on the importance of safety and health in the workplace. While most employers are well aware of the rules that they are required to follow when it comes to safety and health, many have not thought about what to do when an OSHA inspector arrives at the workplace.
Here in Oregon, with some exceptions, most employers fall under the jurisdiction of Oregon Occupational Safety and Health (Oregon OSHA). As part of its mission of improving workplace safety and health in the state, Oregon OSHA is tasked with enforcing standards and regulations related to safety and health. This mission is, at least in part, accomplished through inspections of workplaces, and issuance of citations and assessment of penalties for any violations found during those inspections.
ORS 654.067 provides Oregon OSHA with the right to enter, at reasonable times, any establishment under its jurisdiction. An inspection can be triggered for a number of different reasons. These include a complaint from an employee or a public citizen, a referral from another agency, or an accident or fatality that is reported to Oregon OSHA.
Also, Oregon OSHA conducts throughout the year programmed inspections based on a list of all employers in the state. The order of the list is generally based on the recognized hazards within the industry: the greater the hazards, the higher the priority for a programmed inspection.
And finally, an OSHA inspector can open up an inspection immediately and at any time upon witnessing a condition that could cause death or serious physical injury. An example of this would be an Oregon OSHA inspector witnessing an employee on a roof without proper fall protection.
Employers should conduct their operations and train their employees to work under the assumption that an inspection can occur at any time. Accordingly, preparation is critical. With that in mind, here are five steps that an employer can take today to be better prepared for its next OSHA inspection:
1. Identify the person or persons who will serve as the “Employer Representative” during an OSHA inspection.
Employers have a right to have an “Employer Representative” present during an inspection, and OSHA inspectors are required to wait a reasonable time (not to exceed 45 minutes) for an Employer Representative to arrive on site before beginning an inspection. Oftentimes, however, an inspector will arrive on site, ask to speak to the person in charge of the site, and begin the inspection. This will likely be a manager or superintendent, but it might not be the best person to represent the company during an inspection. Every company should have a person or persons designated to serve as the Employer Representative, and multiple persons should be designated when there are several jobsites or locations that a single person cannot reach within that 45-minute period.
2. Create a plan for when an OSHA inspector arrives on site, and train employees accordingly.
When an OSHA inspector arrives on site, employees should know who the designated Employer Representative is and they should notify that person immediately. Also, if applicable, develop a quick safety training that can be given to visitors – including OSHA inspectors – when they arrive on site. This will demonstrate that the company is proactive about safety and has a firm understanding of the hazards at its workplace.
3. Make sure that injury or illness records are up to date and that the Employer Representative knows where those records are kept.
Every OSHA inspection will include a request for Oregon OSHA-300 logs, the total hours worked, the average number of employees for each year, and a roster of current employees. Keeping these up to date and readily available will minimize the risk of a recordkeeping violation.
4. Conduct random safety audits of the worksite(s). If violations are found during an audit, they should be documented and disciplinary action should be taken in accordance with company policy.
You can have the greatest training program in the world, but if an OSHA inspector determines that a violation occurred, that training program alone will not help prevent a citation. In addition to a training program, employers should conduct regular, random safety audits, and be ready to consistently discipline employees for violations of work rules. Effective training, audits and discipline policies will not only increase safety in a workplace, but also potentially help an employer avoid an OSHA citation altogether.
5. Adopt the habit of documentation in regard to safety and health issues.
If a company happens to receive an OSHA citation, the importance of documentation in a response against that citation cannot be overstated. Safety rules, employee training, safety meetings, job hazard analyses, safety audits and disciplinary action (even if only a verbal warning) should all be documented.
In sum, solid preparation and consultation with an attorney familiar with OSHA’s rules and inspection procedures can ensure that an employer’s next inspection is less disruptive and possibly help prevent citations.
This article summarizes aspects of the law, it does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice for your situation, you should contact an attorney.
Column first appeared in the Oregon Daily Journal of Commerce on June 18, 2021.