Over the past couple of months, Oregon OSHA has visited multiple fire districts around the state. These visits were the result of both accident investigations and regular unannounced inspections. A variety of outcomes have resulted from those visits, from no citations to citations with no monetary penalties to citations with penalties. If they arrived at your location today, how would you handle it? Do you have a plan for this unexpected visit?
1. Don’t panic – This is always a red flag that something is amiss. Find a quiet conference room or office and offer them a glass of water or coffee. Use this time to gather your thoughts. It is appropriate to come to a stopping point on your current projects. OSHA officially allows up to 45 minutes before beginning an inspection. Use this time wisely, you can’t fix everything.
2. Know who to call – Have a list of district personnel, SDAO Risk Management, and other outside experts to call. Make those phone calls up front and let people know you may need their assistance.
3. Prepare your employees – Oregon OSHA has the right and ability to interview your employees. Employees have the right to have a representative in the room, as moral support, or to refuse to participate in the interview. The latter could force the compliance officer to issue subpoenas. I would not advise this approach, unless necessary.
The general rule of thumb has been to interview around 10% of the workforce. Employees who are likely to be interviewed are ones who are involved in what appears to be a hazardous task, supervisors, and often new employees. Areas of concern for the compliance officers are the sufficiency of training for an employee, potential gaps between your policies and your practices, and a lack of appropriate supervision. It’s important to educate your employees on point number five below.
4. Move at your own pace – You cannot stop the process of an OSHA inspection, but you can keep it at a slow enough pace for you to think. Ask a lot of questions, take breaks when you need them, and go to your experts for advice. Many individuals feel that they need to hurry and get OSHA out the door. While this is understandable, I would encourage you to fight that urge as this may cause you to answer questions or provide information in a way that is not positive for the district.
5. Give only what is requested – If they don’t ask for it, don’t volunteer information. Keep your answers honest, but short. Share this information with your employees so they will know how to answer questions from compliance officers.
In terms of written records, there are NO records, other than the OSHA 300 log (within 4 business hours), that must be produced immediately. Ask for a list that you can review to ensure you give them all that is being requested and that they are entitled to. If you hastily hand over all your records at once, you may open the door to additional questions or concerns from the compliance officer.
6. Don’t argue – If you don’t agree with something, you can say that but don’t get into an argument. You won’t win that battle and you may end up giving them more information. Go back to number four and remember to ask questions and get advice from your experts about how to proceed.
7. It’s not over until the paperwork is done – Make certain that you request a copy of the full OSHA report. This is true even if you didn’t receive a citation. These reports can be a good insight into what OSHA thinks of your district and may give you thoughts on how to prepare for the future. If you do receive a citation, this report is invaluable in your defense, as OSHA must prove their citation is correct IF you appeal. Your district is entitled to one free copy of this report with any photos or video, and it can be requested by calling OSHA at 503-378-3272 or 800-922-2689.
An important tool for your district is the risk management department facility walk-through. Consider taking advantage of this checklist to see where your blind spots may be prior to Oregon OSHA visiting. To request a visit email email@example.com.
When questions come up, please let SDAO Risk Management know. We have many resources available to you including checklists, quick reference guides, and trainings. Check the SDAO website for more information. Remember that your OSHA 300 Log of Injuries and Illnesses must be posted February 1 through April 30.