The Top Ten Things You Must Know about OSHA

September 26th, 2016 by Trey Barrineau

When an inspector from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) visits your business, do you know what to do? Most managers don’t, according to Keven Yarbrough of Yarbrough Safety Solutions. He led a webinar on surviving an OSHA inspection during the recent Best of Success conference in Marco Island, Fla.

Yarbrough, a former OSHA assistant area director, worked for the administration for 26 years. Today, he advises businesses on safety procedures and training. Here’s his list of ten tips you should follow when inspectors show up at your company:

1. Greeting the compliance officer.

Yarbrough urges companies to develop a program to teach each employee how to engage an inspector when he or she arrives on site.

“Ninety-nine percent of you don’t have a protocol for how to greet the inspector,” he said. “So what’s he going to do when he gets to your plant? He’s going to talk to the guy who looks like he doesn’t know where he’s at or what he’s doing. He’ll whip out his badge and start grilling this person. That person will then say ‘well, the company’s safety director is in the back of the facility.’ And what do you think the OSHA inspector is going to do as he walks through the facility? He’s documenting everything he sees, because what’s in plain view is fair game.”

To prevent that, Yarbrough said you should have a designated place to hold the compliance officer until your safety director can get there.

“If you don’t, you’re asking for trouble,” he said. “During my years at OSHA, that was easy pickings.”

2. Develop a plan of protection.

Yarbrough says you must have a short, well-crafted safety plan in writing that all employees know inside and out.

“The plan should explain how you will protect your employees from the safety and health hazards associated with the work they perform,” he said. “A safety plan’s not going to do you any good unless you read it, so it shouldn’t be voluminous, because very few people will read something like that. Keep it simple.”

3. It’s about training and documentation.

Most OSHA standards require training, Yarbrough said. If you get in trouble, the inspector will ask for the date of the training, the subject of the training, who attended and the name of the instructor, so be sure you document all of that.

4. Know your safety standards.

You are required to keep a copy of OSHA 1910 (general industry) or 1926 (construction) at each worksite.

“You either have to know it, or you have to pay someone to know it,” Yarbrough said.

5. You have rights.

An inspector can enter your facility or jobsite one or two ways — you invite him in or he has a warrant. You have the right to stop an inspection at any time, refuse an OSHA inspection or request a different inspector if you have problems with the one at your location.

As far as warrants, Yabrough said they can be difficult to get. In fact, in 26 years working at OSHA, he says he was only required to get them on two occasions.

6. Be a copycat.

When an inspector is at work inside your facility, you want to mimic everything he does for your own protection.

“If the compliance officer takes a photograph, you will take photos,” Yarbrough said. “If he measures, you measure. If he takes samples, you take samples. If he interviews employees, you interview employees. If he makes a sketch, you make a sketch.”

Yarbrough says you should compare all of your evidence to that collected by the compliance officer, whose notes are the official legal file.

“You want to say ‘I would like to include my measurements and the differences in the official file,’” he said. “Then you say, ‘if you don’t note it, I’ll note the date and time and point out that you didn’t put it in your file.’ ”

7. Don’t argue with the inspector.

You can discuss, but don’t argue, Yarbrough said.

“In the field is not the time to argue, because he’s always going to have the last word,” he said. “The time to air disagreements is during the closing conference of the inspection.”

8. You’re never “off the record,” so no idle chatter.

Tell the truth, but remember, you’re never off the record, so be very careful about every utterance in the presence of an OSHA inspector.

9. Signing a statement.

Be extremely wary about signing anything handed to you by an OSHA officer, Yarbrough said.

“When a federal investigator interviews you and he’s writing down your words and he says ‘would you read this and sign it,’ remember: OSHA inspectors do not take statements that vindicate you,” he said. “If you sign it and it goes to court, that’s a heck of a thing to overcome.”

Yarbrough said some OSHA inspectors will try to trick you into signing anyway.

“They’ll ask you to read it, and they’ll ask if you understand and agree,” he said. “If you say ‘yes,’ they can note that, and it’s binding. Just say ‘I read the document.’ That’s all. Don’t ever say that you agree with what’s in it.”

Another trick: “An inspector will sometimes say ‘would you just initial here to indicate that I showed you the document?’ That’s almost as good as a signature,” he said.

To be safe, Yarbrough said you should have your company prepare its own documents.

10. It’s not a test, it’s an examination.

“Whenever a compliance officer comes up to you, you have to give a confident answer to them,” Yarbrough said. But regardless of what you say or how you say it, an actual safety program that you enforce and that all employees abide by is the safest way to keep OSHA at bay, Yarbrough said.

“The bottom line is, protect your people,” he said. “You have to take this stuff seriously.”

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