The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) budget for fiscal year 2010 reflects an increase of nearly 10 percent from 2009. OSHA officials expect a significant portion of the budget increase to pay for hiring about 130 new safety and health compliance officers whose responsibilities will include conducting job-site inspections and issuing citations to employers.
In light of OSHA's heightened emphasis on enforcement, you can expect more frequent visits from OSHA compliance officers. Reviewing OSHA inspection policies and procedures may be useful in establishing your company's protocols for responding to an OSHA visit.
OSHA compliance officers follow inspection procedures set out in OSHA's Field Operations Manual (CPL 02-00-148), which became effective Nov. 9, 2009; the directive can be found on OSHA's Web site, www.osha.gov.
You generally will not receive advance notice of an OSHA inspection, and whether an inspector comes to a job site because of a complaint, programmed enforcement action or mere fortuitous circumstance, your obligations during the inspection will not vary substantially.
OSHA classifies inspections as either comprehensive or partial; partial inspections sometimes are called focused inspections because they initially are limited to a focus on especially hazardous operations and issues such as fall, electrical, struck-by or caught-between hazards.
Job-site inspections are conducted during typical work hours (though visits on Saturdays and Sundays are not off-limits). If you receive a visit from an OSHA inspector at a job site, be aware the inspector likely has been at the job site for some time gathering photographic or video evidence of job hazards and operations that may violate OSHA regulations.
The inspection begins with an opening conference, which usually is brief and informs you of the inspection's purpose and nature of any complaint that may have initiated the visit.
The inspector will start the walk-around portion after the opening conference. Efforts to impede the inspection, such as not allowing the inspector to use your ladder to access the roof, are considered "refusals of entry" by OSHA and usually stop the inspection. They often are followed by the issuance of a warrant compelling access.
The OSHA inspector will attempt to interview workers present at the job site as well as other employees; according to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, inspectors have the right to conduct the interviews in private. Workers have the right not to speak to the OSHA inspector, but testimony may be compelled if an administrative subpoena is issued to the workers to support OSHA's issuance of a citation. Copies of the company's training records, injury and illness reports, and safety program often will be of interest to the inspector in assessing a citation's issuance or nature.
The inspection will conclude with a conference during which the OSHA inspector will inform you about conditions he or she discovered during the inspection that may support a citation under OSHA rules. Rarely will an employer receive a citation at the inspection's conclusion; the inspector typically will want to review photos, videos, interviews and other records with his or her area director before issuing a citation. OSHA has six months from the date of an alleged violation to issue a citation based on that violation.
If you receive an OSHA citation, you may contest the citation or proposed penalty. Your notice of contest must be postmarked within 15 business days from your receipt of the citation. Failing to contest a citation within that time period results in the penalties assessed under the citation becoming final with no right of appeal.
Make sure you are aware of the procedures OSHA inspectors follow during job-site inspections. Also, properly maintain safety and health records and establish and train workers on your company's protocol for handling an OSHA inspection.
Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of risk management.