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OSHA Inspections to Ensure Compliance

The American workforce is truly our most valuable national resource. Even though the recession has taken a major toll on those who are unemployed, there are still over 120 million Americans who spend their days on a job. There is no reason why someone should work 8+ hours and expect to get hurt or even worse, killed. This is exactly how Congress felt when they passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Before the act was passed, annual figures included:

  • Job related accidents accounted for more than 14,000 worker deaths
  • Nearly 2 1/2 million workers were disabled
  • Ten times as many person-days were lost from job related disabilities than from strikes
  • Estimated new cases of occupational diseases totaled 300,000

The OSH Act was implemented to ensure every working man and woman was provided with a safe and healthful work environment. And how could the government make sure this was happening? By completing inspections of workplaces and having the right to issue fines if employers weren’t complying.

OSHA site visits, conducted by an experienced safety professional, are called Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CO). They show up without advance notice almost all of the time – unless your company has had major issues in the past and OSHA automatically visits you throughout the year to ensure compliance.

Obviously, OSHA cannot inspect all 7 million workplaces in its jurisdiction each year so inspection priorities have been implemented. The priority inspections focus on the most hazardous types of workplaces and fall into 6 different categories:

  1. Imminent Danger – This type of inspection is top priority for OSHA. This is a hazard that could cause death or serious physical harm. Employers must correct these hazards immediately before workers can return to the task. Many visits from OSHA are the result of a CO driving by and seeing an imminent danger situation. Imminent danger situations include falls, struck by, electrical and caught in between types of hazards.
  2. Fatalities and catastrophes – This is a visit resulting from a death or the hospitalization of 3 or more employees. Employers must report these incidents to OSHA within 8 hours.
  3. Complaints – OSHA can receive anonymous complaints detailing a hazard or violation which is looked at as high priority.
  4. Referrals – If someone from another federal, state or local agency informs OSHA that there may be compliance issues with your company, you can be sure you’ll be visited. Also, any media outlets showing workers in an unsafe situation will get you a visit.
  5. Follow Ups – If you have already had a CO visit and violations have been found, expect a follow up to make sure the hazard has been abated.
  6. Planned – If your injury and illness rate is high, OSHA may visit your place of business numerous times during the year to check up on you.

The Inspection

When a CO visits a workplace, whether its general industry or construction, the same rules apply.

Employers have the right to require an inspection warrant before entering the worksite. I, as a consultant, never recommend to my clients they require this. The only employers that I know of that do such a thing are places that have serious health and safety issues. And most likely, OSHA already knows this and has already obtained a search warrant.

When the CO arrives they will present you with their credentials, which consist of a photo ID with a serial number. Make sure you write down their name or ask for a business card.

Unless the CO has witnessed an imminent danger situation, an opening conference will be conducted to review why they are there, the type of inspection they intend to conduct, the procedure for the walk around and employee representation.

During the walk around, the CO may point out some violations. If a violation is something which can be fixed immediately, then do so. This shows the CO that the employer wants to make sure their employees are kept safe. The CO may also consult privately with workers – remember to let your workers know this is not a sign of them being in trouble. And if they do say something to the CO that you, the employer, does not like, you cannot fire them.

After the walk around, the CO will hold a closing conference to discuss what was found. If there are any citations issued by the Area Director, it must be issued within six (6) months of the violation occurrence. Employers only have 15 working days after receiving the violation if they plan on contesting the violation and/or penalties by sending a written notice to the Area Director who issued the citation.

If an employer has documentation proving the safety consciousness of the company and hazards are not ignored, violations and penalties should always be contested. The fine amounts get larger and larger once you get repeat violations.

Next blog posting will cover the fine system and the recent fines from OSHA to all types and sizes of companies.

Have an OSHA violation that you’re trying to contest? Call us today to help you diminish that fine!

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