Early one morning, an OSHA Compliance Safety & Health Officer arrives unannounced at your place of business requesting an immediate inspection of your workplace, interviews of your employees and a review of safety-related documentation. In ideal circumstances, the OSHA inspection would proceed immediately, and in an orderly fashion, to an opening conference where a management representative would (1) inspect the search warrant or employee complaint, if any, (2) decide whether to allow the inspection, and (3) discuss the scope of the inspection.
As many employers can attest, not all OSHA inspections begin under such ideal circumstances. The Compliance Officer may arrive at the workplace at a time when (1) no management representative is immediately available, or (2) other matters are demanding the employer’s immediate attention. The Compliance Officer may be alone with an employee who is ill-prepared for such an encounter. Even worse, the Compliance Officer may be left alone to wander the workplace, and witness not only the employer’s operations, but also the urgent clean-up prompted by OSHA’s arrival.
The first minutes of an OSHA inspection, however, can be critical. Anything said by a management or non-management employee before the opening conference can become a part of the inspection file. Anything seen by the Compliance Officer before the opening conference can likewise become part of the inspection file. These developments can form the basis not only for citations and fines, but also a broader scope of inspection than may have been authorized beforehand.
Just as any other part of an OSHA inspection, therefore, the short time-period between the arrival of the Compliance Officer and the opening conference should be managed. So, what do you need to do or don’t do to survive these critical first minutes of an OSHA inspection?