Recently, a client called early one morning alarmed. The client, a medical professional, had patients in examination rooms and the receptionist informed her that an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) Inspector was in the lobby requesting to conduct an investigation. Would you know what to do?

Many employers think that it is unlikely that they would be faced with the above scenario. You have a safety policy and trained your supervisors and employees. Yet, approximately 30 percent of all inspections result from employee complaints. Have you terminated an employee recently? Typically, OSHA law prohibits an OSHA inspector from giving advance notice of an on-site inspection. So, you might want to dust off your safety policy and rethink your preparedness for the dreaded call from your receptionist. Here are some points to consider:

The Policy

  • Adopt a safety policy that not only addresses safety issues but also sets forth the protocol for an OSHA investigation.
  • Provide all supervisors with a copy of the policy and review it with them every year.
  • Designate representatives who are authorized to communicate with OSHA. This will help ensure that correct information is provided to OSHA.
  • Direct other employees to contact one of the company’s designated representatives if they are contacted by OSHA.

The Visit By OSHA

When the OSHA inspector arrives:

  • Immediately contact the company’s designated representative(s).
  • Ask to see and make a copy of the inspector’s identification and the identification of any persons accompanying him/her.1
  • Advise the inspector that only the company’s designated representative has authority to act on behalf of the company and you will call the representative to meet with the inspector.
  • Ask the inspector to wait in an office away from any work activity until the designated representative arrives.
  • While the inspector is waiting in the office, have the work areas inspected and any apparent hazards corrected.

The designated representative should:

  • Ask the inspector the reason for the inspection, e.g., employee complaint (ask for a copy), programmed inspection referral.
  • Accompany the inspector during the inspection.
  • Attempt to gather the same environmental/evidence samples/pictures gathered by the inspector.
  • Ask the inspector about anything in which the investigator appears interested.
  • Take notes of conditions noted and comments made by the inspector and mark the notes “Confidential,Prepared in Anticipation of Litigation.” 
  • Do not provide any substantive information about the company or its operations to the inspector, unless the representative believes that an explanation may help avoid a citation.
  • Be careful not to admit to a violation after the inspector points out an alleged safety or health hazard.

At the closing conference, the inspector should advise the designated representative of any apparent violations and the relevant OSHA standards. The inspector should also discuss the possible citations and penalties that may be proposed for the apparent violations.