Employers should place emphasis on establishing and maintaining a strong safety culture for their organization. Additionally, companies should be regularly assessing their work areas and ensuring they are providing work environments that are free of hazards for their employees and sub-contractors. Employers should also have a through plan in place pertaining to how they will handle an OSHA inspection at their work place. When the compliance officer (CSHO) arrives on your job-site, this is not the time to scramble and “wing-it”. In most cases, a member of the management team or an authorized employee representative will be present during the opening conference of an OSHA inspection. The employee representative should be familiar with the company’s Safety & Health Program and have access to frequently requested documents. Determining the scope of the inspection is crucial too; determining whether the compliance officer will be conducting a focuses inspection or a comprehensive inspection should also be discussed early in the opening conference phase of the inspection.

 

When the OSHA compliance officer assesses the workplace, he or she is looking to determine if your company is providing a safe work environment. They are essentially determining whether the company is meeting OSHA’s minimum safety requirements. If the answer is no, you can expect the compliance officer will spot these deficiencies and address them. Often times, these deficiencies result in citations and costly fines for the company.

knowing your rights regarding the inspection process and understanding that OSHA has the burden to prove an employer violated an applicable standard to receive a citation is essential. There are certain elements that must be present and documented when a CSHO recommends citation(s).

A hazard must exist: An unsafe work environments, conditions, or processes must be documented by the compliance office during the inspection process.
An OSHA Standard Exists: An applicable OSHA standard must exist in conjunction with the observed workplace hazard observed by the OSHA Compliance Officer. Employers should keep in mind that if an applicable safety standard is not present, the compliance officer can issue a citation under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, specifically Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act of 1970. In essence, the General Duty Clause requires all employers provide a work environment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
A violation of the OSHA standard occurred: A violation of the applicable standard must be documented and an exposure to the hazard must occur. For example, employees working at elevated heights without fall protection during the inspection process. This would constitute a violation of OSHA’s fall protection standard. The employer is exposing their workers to a hazard and there is an applicable OSHA standard violated. Often times, the Compliance Officer will take photographs, get measurements, take notes, and possibly interview workers. It is crucial as the employee representative you document and take notes too!
Employer knowledge: The employer or their representatives, most notably the foreman, supervisor, plant manager, etc. knew or could have known about the hazardous condition(s) and failed to correct them. In most instances OSHA does consider employees in a management role who failed to mitigate/correct the applicable hazard as satisfying the employer knowledge requirement.
As an employer your ultimate goal should be to provide your employees and those on your jobsite/workplace a safe environment. One of the most cost-effective solutions a company can take to minimize risk is to ensure they conduct regular job-site inspections and update their Health & Safety Program as needed. Mock-OSHA inspections are a great way to assess your company’s overall health and safety program and ensure it is being implemented appropriately.

***Employers should keep in mind how they handle correcting workplace hazards. Understanding how OSHA defines “competent vs qualified persons” in relation to hazard-mitigation should be carefully assessed. I.e.: some workplace hazards must be corrected by a “qualified person” (Someone with the applicable license/credentials). While other hazards can be mitigated by a “Competent Person” (Someone who is capable of identifying existing hazards and has the authority of the employer to correct the hazard)***
Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions you or your company may have!
Ryan Worrell
Ash Safety Services, LLC
ryanworrell@ashsafetyservices.com

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