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Loss Control

An OSHA Inspector Just Arrived. Now What?

While some visits from OSHA are prearranged, most are not. Here is what to expect.

April 30, 2024

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) aims to make workplaces safe. This is why they conduct inspections.

While some visits from OSHA are prearranged, most are not. What should you know if an OSHA inspector, also called a compliance safety and health officer, arrives unexpectedly at your workplace? What will happen during the visit? What should you do or avoid doing during their visit? Here are some considerations, beginning with what could trigger a visit.

Why Would an OSHA Inspector Show Up?

Several events can trigger OSHA inspections. Some of these include the following:

  • Random audits. OSHA can show up anytime, even at workplaces with clean records.
  • Employee complaints. An employee can call, email or file a complaint online. OSHA may send a letter requesting a call with the employer, or an inspector may appear unannounced to investigate the complaint.
  • Planned investigations. High-hazard industries or workplaces and worksites covered under an OSHA National Emphasis Program are targeted for inspections.
  • Fatalities and catastrophes. When three or more employees die or are hospitalized, employers are required to report the incident within eight hours and can expect a visit from OSHA.
  • Referrals. OSHA may investigate a workplace based on hazard report information gathered from federal, state or local agencies, individuals, organizations or the media.
  • Follow-ups. OSHA will send a compliance officer to verify that previously cited violations have been corrected.

What Takes Place During an OSHA Inspection?

Since OSHA inspectors can arrive unannounced, employers should be prepared to manage such a visit carefully. Consider the following five steps:

1. Arrival. Be polite but verify that the visitor is who they say they are. OSHA inspectors must carry credentials that include a photograph and a serial number. People have been known to imply they are safety officers to gain access to businesses and try to sell safety-related products to the company. To verify credentials, contact your local OSHA office.

2. Opening conference. Begin the conference only after your assigned safety officer is present, if possible. Then, the inspector should provide the specific reason(s) for the visit and describe what they want to see and who—if anyone—they plan to interview.

3. Inspection tour. Accompany the OSHA inspector directly to and from the areas specified in the opening conference. If the inspector wanders and notices safety issues beyond those they are specifically there to address, they can broaden the inspection. If the inspector takes photos of machinery and equipment, you should do likewise. If they note an issue for correction, you should do the same and, if possible, address it then and there. If they take industrial hygiene samples for testing, you should do likewise.

The inspector may also request to see documentation, such as your OSHA logs and your hazardous communication policy, which should support not only your workers’ right to know but also their right to understand. The inspector may ask to see your legal register, which should include relevant legislation, regulations and requirements; compliance details; definitions; permits and deadlines; measure and monitoring procedures; and the location of or links to data.

4. Closing conference. At the end of the inspection, the OSHA compliance officer will explain what they found and the relevance of those findings. They also will explain the next steps. No documentation will be provided at this stage.

5. Follow-up correspondence. OSHA will follow up with written correspondence. If serious violations or hazards were observed during the visit, citations and fines may be issued, along with deadlines for abatement. The organization then can determine what steps to take, including contesting the findings.

Preparation Is Key

Employee safety is paramount. So is implementing a strategic, compliant safety loss control program before OSHA arrives at the front door.

Hylant helps employers—including those in industries targeted as part of a National Emphasis Program—identify, quantify and prioritize safety-related risks and ways to address them strategically. We also help companies understand how to respond to OSHA inspections and connect them with third-party experts (e.g., industrial hygienists, OSHA compliance experts, and ergonomic specialists) as needed. Learn more here about how we can help you strengthen your safety, compliance and cost-control efforts.

The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your insurance broker or trusted advisor for insurance-related questions.

Authored by

Beverlie Cote

Beverlie Cote

Risk Advisor - Casualty Loss Control

Beverlie has 20 years of experience in environmental, health and safety within automotive, food manufacturing, agriculture, education Japanese and Chinese companies and life sciences. Beverlie partners with commercial clients in strategic casualty loss control by reviewing the client’s loss history and developing actionable objectives and goals to improve their program and systems.

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