How do best-in-class safety leaders prepare for an OSHA inspection? Although it may be rare to have an OSHA inspector show up at your facility, it does happen, and you want to be prepared. To help answer that question, we turned to Dan Burke, a seasoned employment law professional at Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP, to talk about how world class safety organizations prepare for and handle OSHA inspections. As a part of Graydon’s Cincinnati, Ohio office, Burke represents and counsels clients on a wide variety of employment, education, senior care, and workplace health and safety issues. Burke has represented clients before state and federal agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Ohio Civil Rights Commission, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, Industrial Commission of Ohio, and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, as well as federal and state trial and appellate courts. He also chairs the Firm’s Labor & Employment group. He’s also been named Lawyer of the Year for his work in Workers’ Compensation Law-Employers in 2013, Best Lawyers in America from 2007-2016 for his work in Employment Law-Management, Labor Law-Management, and Workers’ Compensation Law-Employers, among other accolades for his work. Here are 5 simple ways top safety leaders are going above and beyond in their preparation for OSHA inspections.
1. They keep their information really organized.
It may be a binder or it may be in a digital format, but it’s common in best-in-class companies to create a binder or a similar collection of information to equip employees. This way, even if employees are prepared and informed, “small” things are not forgotten. It’s also a confidence builder, too, if an OSHA inspector stops by, explains Burke. It’s one more way to plan to make sure you really do have things in place and in order before OSHA ever arrives. Among other company-or facility-specific reminders, Burke says this binder can include information such as:
- Location of key documents OSHA will be requesting
- Description of all the documents OSHA will be requesting (if using a digital system, it will all be in one place; with binder, include location and description)
- Name of the company’s outside legal counsel and phone numbers
- A reference to how an employee should document it
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2. They have a person who can establish a great rapport with the OSHA inspector.
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“Establish a good rapport with the OSHA inspector as soon as they arrive. How you treat them from the outset is going to be important because they’re going to have a lot of control over what happens during the inspection and in deciding whether to issue citations against the company,” explains Burke. “Remember that the OSHA inspector is a human being, too, and you know they’re at your place of business, so you can offer them a cup of coffee, be courteous to them, and you can talk to them,” adds Burke. Building that positive rapport can go a long way and best in class companies don’t overlook the importance of being courteous and polite to the inspector. Best-in-class companies either choose a representative or train a representative so that the person feels comfortable directing the inspection, but also making sure the inspection proceeds in a reasonable manner. This is someone who also will feel comfortable and know when it may be the right time to assert legal rights and/or bring in legal counsel.
3. They project confidence.
Companies that have a culture that supports health and safety also make sure they are fully prepared for OSHA stopping by; in that way, they really do end up being ready for an OSHA inspection. The result is greater confidence that can easily be felt by an OSHA inspector, says Burke. To do the same as these companies, look at the process you’ve made for when an inspection takes place. Are there any areas you are not fully prepared for? Do employees know what to expect? Do all levels of workers know what behavior would not be normal or be reason for concern? Have you discussed building rapport with an OHSA inspector? Do you know when you might want outside legal counsel called in? What else can do you do to cut down on any kind of scrambling around the day of? “When you do project confidence at that stage, then the inspector is likely to be more confident in what you’re telling them about how the company is a safe company, ‘And, here’s why…’” says Burke. One of the easiest ways to project confidence is to have a uniform and consistent process for executing policies and procedures. Many companies have had challenges with this, whether it be due to prioritization, culture or the administration of the process itself. Traditionally much of the process has been paper-based, making it difficult to keep it top-of-mind, accessible and simple. Let’s face it – we avoid tasks that aren’t easily or enjoyable. In order to tackle these challenges, many companies are moving to technology to ensure consistency of information, accuracy, timeliness, and engagement. Simply put, using technology to track the data and information, that is—makes it more easily accessible and it helps to make your programs more effective. These systems help you get the reporting and insights that you need quickly and easily to make improvements and understand your most vulnerable areas. When OSHA sees that the tools are readily available to employees and the process is simplified, it provides confidence that there is sustainability to your safety program.
4. They politely inquire about why OSHA is there.
After an OSHA inspector shows their credentials and starts to talk more with your company representative, it’s not unusual to ask them for their reason for inspection. An appropriate time to do this is when the company OSHA response team is together and you’ve had your opening conference. You can simply ask them, “Why are you here?” so that you can hear what they have to say. It’s good practice to hear why they are coming to your place of business. It could be the industry you are in, a complaint from an employee, a follow-up, or it could be because of a hazard or illness or injury that was reported—whatever the case may be, it’s a good idea to gently ask that question. It can also inform you more about how the inspection will proceed and it can raise a red flag if the inspection starts to change direction, despite what the officer told you.
5. They segment workers to better prep each group.
Best-in-class safety programs educate each segment of your workers based on what they specifically need to know. Put simply, give them the information that will help them the most based on what they will be tasked with doing if an inspection does occur. Burke explains, in many cases, you have your OSHA response team, your management employees, and your non-management employees/contract workers. Treat each group distinctly when it comes to educating and preparing them. The OSHA response team requires heavy preparation. They need to be prepped with the do’s and don’t leading up to and during the inspection, and need to know what the process entails if they’re ready. They are the core group of people that need to know exactly how shadowing and documentation should occur during the inspection. Then, be sure that management employees feel comfortable with what to expect and what to look for during an inspection. They should also know how to prepare the non-management employees. “If they are management, and they represent the company, the company’s attorney should prepare them for any interview they have with OSHA. And in fact, the company’s attorney should be present during any interview an OSHA inspector does with a management level employee,” explains Burke. Be sure that management knows your specific company’s policy. With non-management employees, education may be more focused on how you would answer questions that come from the OHSA inspector. In short, these workers need to know their rights, but also that they are tasked with answering honestly and to the best of their knowledge. “With a non-management employee, such as equipment operator that has witnessed an accident, OSHA has the right to talk to them privately without anybody from management being in the room, or without the company’s lawyer being in the room,” adds Burke. In summary, best-in-class companies make sure every employee segment is educated accordingly so that there is no confusion or any misinformation being circulated during an inspection. Keep in mind that basic consistent communication practices, like active listening, go a long way to making sure that employees are not only trained on how to answer questions from OSHA, but good communication practices also provide the foundation to an open, energetic, and positive culture around safety.
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