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Your desk is covered in paperwork, monthly records and tax forms. You’re on the phone, trying to get a company representative on the line to explain why last week’s shipment hasn’t come in yet.
And then the knock. It’s not opportunity, it’s not fortune — it’s the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA’s purpose is to ensure, as much as possible, safe and healthful work conditions for every working man and woman in the nation and to preserve our human resources.
First things first
Keep your cool, and select a company representative or an employee that is well versed in OSHA regulations and the written documents that are required.
Be polite, and ask to inspect their credentials. Ask why they are visiting.
With credentials in hand, call the nearest OSHA office and verify the ID and serial number over the phone. Contact information for your local office can be found at www.osha.gov.
Next, ask to see and verify the warrant. All warrants should state time limits and ground rules; make sure to read and understand these.
If there is no warrant, the compliance officer should leave, but will most likely return.
After verifying the warrant and taking the time to understand the limits imposed within, discuss the ground rules with the compliance officer.
Remember to still treat the compliance officer with respect, but they are a guest in your facility, and should act accordingly.
Do not get too friendly with the officer; this will not work in your favor.
In addition, the officer will provide the following information to you:
- The reason for the inspection; and
- The scope of the inspection.
The compliance officer has the right to review all of your documentation. This includes written documents, plans and your OSHA 300 log.
If these documents are up-to-date and accurate, the compliance officer will most likely leave and the OSHA will choose not to investigate further. Therefore, it is important to do your best to maintain truthful and recent records at all times.
If, however, this is not the case, the compliance officer will ask to see more of your records. These documents might include:
- Your hazard communication plan;
- MSDS sheets;
- OSHA 300 Injury illness log;
- Your emergency action plan; and
- Safety and health program with procedures and training curriculum.
In regards to the OSHA 300 log, all employers with 10 or fewer employees are partially exempt from recording an OSHA injury and illness log, although it is a good idea to maintain these records anyway.
Keeping a close watch
The compliance officer does not have the right to give employees orders of any kind, although they may ask questions.
These employee interviews must not interfere with on-going work, so do not be afraid to contest an interview request during the inspection.
Also, employees do not have to participate in OSHA interviews or tests if they object. Make sure that if an interview is conducted, you are present and alert, taking notes.
As well as taking notes of everything that occurs, take pictures and tests when the officer does. Maintain records of these for future reference.
While the compliance officer is conducting the inspection, feel free to ask him/her questions and record the answers.
At the end of the inspection, recap what has occurred with the officer, and include detailed dates, names, times, notes, pictures, and recordings in a file for your personal use.
Document the closing conference
During this discussion the compliance officer should in no way indicate or specify what citations or penalties will be imposed — only the OSHA area director has that authority.
Once the compliance officer has submitted and reported his findings, the OSHA area director determines if citations will be issued and if penalties will be assessed.
Citations will be sent by certified mail, detailing alleged violations of standards, proposed penalties and the length of time set for correction.
Request to mark your file confidential if “trade secrets” are involved. The OSHA will have to mark the file confidential if you request it and can substantiate your claim.
If you are fined or found to be in violation, always request an Informal Conference #33.
You have 15 days to request an informal conference with the OSHA area director from the time you received the citation to discuss the violation, penalty or abatement date.
As an employer who has been cited, you may also file a petition for modification of abatement or you may correct the condition by the date set in the OSHA notice.
- You do not have to admit guilt;
- You will obtain a better explanation for the violations cited;
- You will obtain a more complete understanding of the specific standards that apply;
- You will be able to discuss ways to correct violations;
- You will be able to discuss problems concerning the abatement dates;
- You will be able to discuss problems concerning employee safety practices;
- You will most likely resolve disputed violations; and
- You will be able to obtain answers to any other questions you have.
Make sure to bring a list of any and all questions and concerns to the OSHA office. At the office, contest all alleged violations and penalties because they are too high.
When you settle the contest, make sure to do so with an agreement that provides that none of the citation’s allegations may be used in any future civil litigation.
Keep in mind that you have the right to look at the inspector’s files under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Request this in writing and keep a copy for your records.
Remember, after you are served an OSHA notice of violation you must post the notice or a copy of it for your employees to see. The OSHA notice must remain posted for three workdays or until the hazard is corrected, whichever is longer.
Inspection citation: notice of contest
After you have filed your notice of contest, your case is officially in litigation.
Upon receipt of your notice of contest, the OSHA area director forwards your case to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission; most likely they will not want to proceed after this.
The commission will assign your case to an administrative law judge who will generally schedule a hearing in a public place close to your business.
States with their own OSHA programs have a state system for review and appeal of citations, penalties, and abatement periods. Generally, their procedures are similar to federal OSHA’s, but cases are heard by a state review board or equivalent authority or possibly independent arbitration.
Anthony Flammia is the owner and operator of Gia’s Mobile Detailing of Long Island Inc., and a member of the Professional Detail Technicians Assocation (PDTA).
Gia’s Mobile Detailing of Long Island Inc., Disclaimer: Due to the constantly changing nature of government information, it is impossible to guarantee absolute accuracy of the material contained herein. The writer and editor, therefore, cannot assume any responsibility for omission, errors, misprinting, or ambiguity contained within this writing and shall not be held liable in any degree for any loss or injury caused by such omission, error, misprinting or ambiguity presented in this article.
This article is designed to provide reasonable and accurate information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is conveyed with the understanding that the author of this article is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required the services of a competent professional should be sought.