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How to Prep for an OSHA Audit

Posted 6/30/2017 by UHBlog

If you want to avoid the stress of an Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) inspection, examine your safety and health practices. We can help.

How to Prep for an OSHA Audit

Do you know what to do if Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors come knocking on your door?

The mission of OSHA is to assure safe and healthy working conditions in the workplace. There are many ways OSHA meets this mandate, including through onsite inspections.

“The vast majority of OSHA inspections are unannounced,” says occupational safety and risk control manager Robert Liott, MS, CHSP, ARM, CRIS. “They can be stressful, but if your organization understands how to handle these and takes steps in advance to prepare for them, the inspection will go more smoothly.”

Liott answers some commonly asked questions about OSHA inspections:

Q. When can OSHA decide to audit a workplace?

A. Some of the reasons include:

  • Imminent danger situations
  • Severe injuries and illnesses
  • Worker complaints
  • Referrals
  • Targeted/programmed inspections
  • Follow-up inspections

“I could be passing a construction site and see something that I believe poses an imminent danger, such as a worker on scaffolding without fall protection,” Liott says. “Or perhaps an employee decides something in the workplace is hazardous. They can choose to contact OSHA directly to report it, rather than speaking with a supervisor. The reasons can vary.”

Q. How can a workplace avoid OSHA audits?

A. The best strategy is a preventive approach, Liott says.

“Your company or organization should have an employee safety and health program that involves initial and ongoing refresher training, in addition to training when new hazard exposures may be present as a result of new equipment or new responsibilities,” he says. “It’s very important that supervisors encourage best practices at all times.”

Q. Does OSHA always show up at the workplace to investigate?

A. No, says Liott.

“OSHA’s response to the majority of employee complaints involves sending a letter to the employer describing the alleged hazard and asking the employer to investigate and respond back to OSHA within seven days, and include pictures and any relevant documentation,” he says. “If your response is not timely, OSHA will visit your workplace.”

The most important thing your workplace can do is be proactive.

“Make sure you have a designated company representative – and back-up person – who is knowledgeable about how to manage an OSHA inspection,” he says. “Assign this to a reliable person. This individual doesn’t have to work in the facility being inspected.”

Q. What tips and guidelines should my workplace follow during an OSHA safety audit?

A. According to Liott, employers have options and they have rights – which you should research in advance. To ensure the audit goes smoothly, Liott recommends following these steps:

  1. Notify all company facilities that if an OSHA compliance officer shows up, the company’s designated OSHA representative is contacted.
  2. Have the OSHA inspector wait in an office or waiting room until the rep arrives. Don’t allow the OSHA inspector to walk around the facility freely.
  3. Understand the complaint. “There’s an opening conference where you’ll be asked for OSHA documentation you’re required to keep depending on your industry,” Liott says. “Then the inspector will want to see the complaint area. This is known as the walkthrough.”
  4. Use the shortest route to walk the compliance officer directly to the area of concern in the complaint – and only show the officer that area. “If the compliance officer asks to see another area, there has to be good reason,” Liott says. “And you can deny the request.”
  5. Be truthful. The OSHA compliance officer has the right to interview employees who may be impacted in that area, and your employees should be encouraged to be honest.
  6. Take copious notes and pictures. If the OSHA officer takes pictures, you should take a photo of the same thing.
  7. Learn the outcome during the closing conference, when the OSHA inspector shares what violations were discovered. This will include deadlines to correct concerns and possible fines that will be issued.

“You want to have a good rapport with them, but remember, they’re not there for coffee and donuts,” he says. “They will cite you for safety violations. Their main objective is to make sure employees are safe and that your workplace is free of dangers and situations that can be harmful.”

To learn more about implementing workplace safety strategies at your workplace or other University Hospitals occupational health and safety services, connect with University Hospitals Employer Solutions.

Robert Liott, MS, CHSP, ARM, CRIS, is Manager, Occupational Safety and Risk Control Services at University Hospitals.

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