The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with protecting employees in the workplace from the many hazards they face. As such, OSHA has the authority to inspect employers’ facilities to ensure that they are correctly following all applicable safety standards [29 CFR 1903]. Should an OSHA inspector find a facility in non-compliance, he or she may assign corrective actions and hand out penalties. All workplaces should be prepared for an eventual inspection, as OSHA has the authority to inspect any employer or workplace with employees [29 CFR 1903.3].
OSHA inspections are generally carried out in four basic steps: presenting credentials, opening conference, the walk-around, and closing conference.
Step 1: Presenting Credentials
Keeping in mind that it is unlawful to obstruct an OSHA inspector, it’s important for employers to check for proper identification from a compliance officer prior to allowing him or her access to records, employees, or the facility. This is something that should normally be done at the very beginning of the opening conference. Requesting credentials is NOT considered to be an objection to the inspection; it is simply ensuring that the inspector is legitimate.
Step 2: Opening Conference
During the opening conference, the compliance officer will explain the purpose and scope of the inspection, as well as the safety standards that will be applied. Inspections often occur for three major reasons: A reportable accident occurs, an employee submits a complaint, or an inspection is pre-scheduled at facilities with known safety hazards. Both employers and employees have the right under the OSH Act to have a representative of their choosing accompany the compliance officer during an inspection. The opening conference is the appropriate time to introduce these representatives.
Step 3: Walk-around
Once the opening conference has been conducted and the compliance officer has examined any records that he wishes to look at prior to examining the rest of the facility, the walk-around inspection can begin. The main purpose of the walk-around inspection is for the compliance officer to identify potential safety and/or health hazards that are present in the workplace. The employer representative may suggest a course to take through the facility, but ultimately the compliance officer determines the route and the duration of the inspection.
During the walk-around inspection, the compliance officer will observe conditions, point out any hazards that are observed, and discuss possible correction methods for the hazards. The compliance officer may make video recordings and take photographs and various instrument readings during the inspection. Employer and employee representatives are permitted to record similar data if they choose, and it is generally recommended that they do so whenever possible.
Step 4: Closing Conference
During the closing conference, the compliance officer will brief the employer and employee representative on conditions observed during the walk-around. At this time, the compliance officer will inform the employer and employee representatives of their rights to appeal any citation that may be issued, as well as resources available to them from OSHA.
As a note, citations will not be issued during or at the end of the conference. The results of the inspection will be given to the OSHA Area Director following the visit, and citations or other notices-of-violation (if necessary) will be issued within six months.
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