Understanding the Role of OSHA in the Workplace

If you operate in the construction or manufacturing industry, you’re likely familiar with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, or OSHA. OSHA can be a scary acronym, but understanding their practices and why they’re important can alleviate some of that confusion and stress.

Recently, Marketplace Resource Consultant Brenda Lude and I attended a Sheakley webinar called Top Safety Questions: OSHA at the Door, and compiled some basic tips when communicating with OSHA before and during an inspection.

  • It’s important to remember that OSHA exists to ensure safe working conditions, and to help you avoid citations rather than just give them.
  • When an OSHA Inspector arrives at your office, factory or construction site, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for their credentials and verify they are who they say they are. If something seems not quite right, call the OSHA regional office. The webinar leader related a story in which scam artists were trolling construction sites in the southern U.S. pretending to be OSHA Inspectors and issuing thousands of dollars in phony citations. They would either ask for payment immediately or offer to settle for a smaller amount if the business would promise to correct the issue. Businesses paid these scammers and lost a lot of money.
  • Wait until the proper person arrives before authorizing the inspection to begin. The Inspector may have a lot of questions regarding safety and business practices, and you want to have a properly-trained employee there to answer these questions.
  • Keep copies of any documentation provided to OSHA during the inspection, and try and record the things they are recording. Inspections may result in further questions and investigations, and you want to have comprehensive documents to refer to.
  • If you’re issued citations you agree with, pay them! You will have a limited timeframe to make payment, or penalties may be issued.
  • If you’re issued any citations you don’t agree with, take the extra step to set up an informal conference. This is similar to BBB mediation—sitting down outside of a court setting and talking out the issues. Present your side of the story, give evidence, bring records, and show good faith efforts for your corrective actions.

So what can you do to be ready?

  • Train your employees! Especially the person at the front desk, or the first point of contact for your business.
  • Make a checklist with a “What to Expect” list for your employees. OSHA Inspectors often arrive after unexpected accidents—you don’t want confused employees assisting an Inspector during a potentially critical time.
  • Make a readily-available inspection kit. Include contact numbers (HR, store manager, etc.), camera, pencils/pens and measuring tape.
  • Review your safety policy ever 7 years, and have appropriate training so employees know it’s serious and relevant.
  • Post safety and labor-related posters in well-seen areas, and update them frequently.
  • Contact OSHA to find out which safety standards apply to your business and implement policies specific to those standards.
  • Keep safety a top priority! If a citation is discovered, it will be a fine. Non-payment of fines and failure to correct issues can end up being extremely costly to your business and sometimes you personally.

For more information, visit www.osha.gov.

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About Leslie Kish

I started at BBB|Cincinnati in 1994 as a Customer Service Specialist. Today I am the Vice President of Operations.