With the recent revisions to OSHA’s Field Operations Manual that, among other changes, allow for increased penalties and grant inspectors greater discretion, it is more important than ever for companies to know what to do when OSHA comes knocking.  OSHA has made it extremely easy for employees to lodge complaints and has been concentrating efforts on raising employee awareness – both of which increase the likelihood of an inspection.  OSHA has also made it clear that the oil and gas industry is an agency priority and companies within that industry can expect heightened scrutiny.  Regardless of your past experience with OSHA, knowing how to handle an inspection will help make the process as smooth (and citation-free) as possible.

Before the Inspection

Before the inspection, it is important to have already planned out and have an inspection procedure in place.  You will want to have a designated safety team, who is aware of company safety procedures, training, and records.  You will also want to make sure that employees know to immediately notify company safety team members when an OSHA compliance officer arrives on site.

On arrival of the OSHA inspection officer, the company should verify the officer’s credentials.  Before any substantive action is taken, the company should make sure the safety team is present, and can request that the OSHA inspection officer wait until those individuals are available.  It is generally deemed reasonable for the inspection officer to wait for up to one hour for a company representative.

During the Inspection

Opening Conference:  During the opening conference, you will want to establish the scope of the inspection, the reason for the inspection, and the protocol for any employee interviews or production of documents.  If triggered by an employee complaint, the company may request a copy.

Walkthrough Tour:  During the inspection, the OSHA compliance officer will conduct a tour of the workplace area in question to inspect for safety hazards.  During the tour, the officer may take photographs, video, samples, and/or notes, and conduct interviews with employees.  The company escort should mirror the officer and take the same photographs, video, and samples.  The tour should be limited to the areas within the “scope” established in the opening conference.  Because potential citations are generally limited to what is in “plain view,” the company escort should determine the best route for the tour.

Closing Conference:  At the closing conference, the OSHA compliance officer typically will explain any citations, the applicable OSHA standards, and potential abatement actions and deadlines.  The compliance officer should also explain the appeal rights of the company.  It is important that during this process the company representative take detailed notes and ask for explanations regarding the citations, but avoid admitting to any violations or promising any abatement dates.  If any of the alleged violations have already been corrected, you should inform the OSHA compliance officer.

After the Inspection

After OSHA has finished its inspection and issued its citations, you will want to take all appropriate abatement actions to correct the alleged violations.  The company will also want to quickly determine whether to appeal any of the alleged violations or penalties, as the deadline to do so is only 15 working days after receipt of the citation.  The company should also schedule an informal conference with OSHA during this 15-day period to discuss the citations, and attempt to eliminate or reduce any penalties.

Companies should consult with legal counsel before, during, and after an OSHA inspection.  Understanding OSHA’s requirements, the inspection process, and the implications of a violation will help ensure a safe and citation-free workplace.