Surviving OSHA Inspections

New England OSHA Inspections – What to Know

Each day, businesses throughout Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island go on with business as usual, never expecting an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspector to appear for an impromptu inspection. But it happens. And all New England businesses should be prepared to survive an OSHA inspection.

MAC Safety New England has put together this page to educate regional businesses about OSHA – who they are, what they do, how they select which businesses to inspect, and what their worksite inspections entail.

Our goal is to better prepare New England businesses for OSHA inspections to reduce the likelihood of citations and limit the severity of penalties and fines. In addition to this page, we also encourage you to review workplace safety regulations applicable to your business location through the following links:

Rhode Island Department of Labor – Occupational Safety
Maine Department of Labor – Workplace Safety and Health
New Hampshire Department of Labor – Safety Requirements
Massachusetts Department of Labor – Workplace Safety and Health
Vermont Department of Labor – VOSHA
Connecticut Department of Labor – Worker Safety

What Is OSHA?

Understanding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

OSHA is part of the U.S. Department of Labor. The agency’s principal role is to police workplace safety and health. The agency was established by congress in 1970 as part of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. It was created to administer and enforce regulations designed to minimize job hazards and help prevent at-work injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

A key component of OSHA’s stringent enforcement process is the worksite inspection. The purpose of this inspection is to ensure workplaces are compliant with OSHA standards and regulations.

While these inspections aren’t conducted with a malicious intent to shut down operations, there are some potentially serious repercussions for cited violations. OSHA imposed penalties for New England businesses can be as high as $70,000 for serious repeat or willful violations. Fines are much more reasonable for businesses without a prior history; especially if the inspector believes the company is ethical and will act in good faith to reverse the violation.

What Is the Likelihood of an OSHA Inspection in New England?

OSHA has approximately 2,000 inspectors in the United States. This number includes inspectors from the 26 states with approved state-level OSHA programs, which include Connecticut and Vermont in the New England region. In an average year, OSHA conducts approximately 35,000 federal-level inspections and another 50,000 state-level inspections. When you factor in how many workplaces there are in the US, and the fact that there are over five million workplace injuries and job-related illnesses each year, does 85,000 annual inspections really seem like it covers much ground? Hardly.

So what are the factors that determine whether or not OSHA will inspect your Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, or Massachusetts business?

Six Factors That May Result in a New England OSHA Inspection

With far less OSHA inspectors than workplaces, OSHA inspections in New England are typically in response to:

  1. Any report of imminent worksite hazards, conditions, or dangers that could result in at-work accidents, injuries, or workplace illnesses.
  2. A worksite fatality or an at-work accident that has hospitalized at least 3 employees.
  3. Frequent employee complaints
  4. A recommendation from another government agency
  5. Reports of frequent work-related illnesses or injuries; or industries known for particularly dangerous or hazardous work
  6. The need for a follow-up to a previous inspection

The Scope of New England OSHA Inspections

The scope of a New England OSHA inspection depends on the type of facility, nature of the work, and the situation that has prompted the inspector’s visit. OSHA conducts two types of inspections:

Comprehensive OSHA Inspections – This is the most thorough of OSHA inspections in New England; the inspector searches every nook and cranny of the worksite to note hazardous conditions, operations, and practices.

Partial OSHA Inspections – This is a more limited New England OSHA inspection where the inspector’s primary focus is on a specific workplace hazard, condition, or practice. The inspector reserves the right to switch this to an on-the-spot comprehensive inspection if his or her findings warrant a more thorough inspection.

How Are OSHA Inspections in New England Conducted?

The Inspector Arrives

OSHA inspections are typically conducted during traditional 9 to 5 business hours with usually no advance notice. Always remember that the inspector must present his or her credentials prior to their inspection. If they fail to do this, be sure to ask for credentials. If they fail to comply with your request, DO NOT grant them access as it has now become a security issue. In most cases, the person present at your worksite is indeed an official OSHA inspector, so be stern, but also be polite and respectful until credentials are presented.

Once the OSHA inspector has presented their credentials, they CANNOT be denied entry into the facility. The business owner and/or representative does maintain the right to request a warrant for the inspection and withhold entry until one is presented. The only exception to this is if you or a representative of your company had already previously granted consent to the inspector. It should also be noted that a last minute emergency, scheduling conflict, or sudden unavailability isn’t a valid reason to refuse entry for the inspection.

Through all of this, bear in mind that inspectors are human and can act on emotion. Be pleasant. Don’t make their job any more challenging than it already is. And don’t come off as if you’re doing whatever it takes to stall the inspection. If you do this, they have every right to respond by turning a partial OSHA inspection into a complete inspection.

Participation of Employer/Employee Representatives

Before the inspection begins, the inspector will ask if one or more representatives from the company would like to accompany them during their walk-through inspection. While this escort cannot interfere with the inspection, they can demand that the inspector follows established workplace safety policies for guests – such as wearing protective eyewear or hardhats. The inspector must abide by these rules and guidelines.

Opening Conference

The inspector must describe the purpose of the inspection. If the inspection is in response to a specific complaint, copies of the complaint must be presented to the owner or company representative. A brief meeting is then conducted with the employer and/or their representative, along with employees and/or their representative, which is known as the opening conference. The opening conference can either involve all parties at one time or separate communication with each group.

During this meeting, the inspector explains the reason for their visit and what the worksite inspection will entail. Kindly remind the inspector that it’s within your rights to know the reason for their visit, and what it will involve, if they attempt to bypass the opening conference and go right into the inspection. If you’re still unclear, politely ask for clarification, but reiterate your full willingness to cooperate. Also be careful to not divulge too much information when you speak. Saying too much may lead to a more thorough inspection than originally intended.

Walkthrough Inspection

The walkthrough inspection is the most critical part to any OSHA worksite inspection in New England. This is where the OSHA inspector analyzes worksite conditions and practices to verify OSHA compliancy and note any observed safety or health hazards.

It’s recommended to have at least one representative of the company escort the inspector through this inspection; just as long as they do not disrupt the inspection process. During the walkthrough inspection, the inspector is likely to:

  • Take Photographs or Record Audio/Video – The inspector may photograph or record anything relevant to the scope of his or her inspection. For instance, an unguarded machine or a piece of equipment in the boiler room can be photographed or recorded if it is related to the complaint that has prompted the inspection. Keep in mind; if imminent hazards/dangers are observed during a partial limited scope inspection, the inspector can widen the scope of the inspection at their discretion. In this case, they can then take photographs or video of anything they want. Copies of any photographs or recorded audio/video can be requested at the conclusion of the inspection.
  • Collect Samples – If necessary, the inspector can collect any air or surface samples for laboratory testing. It is within your rights to request a summary of these test results, but results are only provided upon request.
  • Interview Employees – The inspector reserves the right to speak to and/or question workers about job-related hazards or conditions of concern to them. The inspector may conduct these interviews in private. They are most commonly conducted during the walkthrough inspection, but may take place at any point during the inspector’s visit. While all employee statements remain confidential, these statements can and will be used in court if needed.
  • Records Review – Prior to, during, or at the conclusion of their walkthrough inspection, the inspector can ask to review OSHA 300 log or accident reports.
  • On-the-Spot Problem Resolution – Throughout the inspection, the inspector may advise or suggest ways to correct observed hazards. If the fix is relatively easy, the inspector may even request that the issue be fixed before the conclusion of their visit to avoid issuing a citation.

Suggested Tips for Businesses

  1. Bring a camera as you accompany the inspector during the walkthrough tour. Anytime you see the inspector take a photo, take a photo of the same item/conditions yourself to ensure accuracy.
  2. Be sure to document everything the inspector tells you and don’t hesitate to ask questions.
  3. Be respectful to employees during the inspector’s visit. Don’t degrade or belittle them.
  4. Don’t rush the process or counter-argue the inspector’s observations. Listen and be helpful. While you want to be informative, you again don’t want to divulge too much information.
  5. Make no offers to the inspector beyond your utmost cooperation. Don’t offer to provide the inspector lunch; they are unable to accept such a request.

Closing Conference

Once the inspection has concluded, the inspector will discuss their findings during a closing conference. Although anyone that accompanied the inspector during the walkthrough inspection will already have a general idea of what violations or concerns the inspector mentioned, this is where the inspector breaks everything down. You’ll find out what violations you were flagged for, any matters that concerned the inspector, and how much time you’ll have to resolve violations. The same parties present for the opening conference should also attend the closing conference.

In certain situations, the inspector may need more time. This may necessitate a second closing conference either face-to-face or over the phone.

Citation and Abatement

A copy of any citation will be sent via certified mail. An abatement date, which is a deadline to satisfactorily resolve the issue, will be included with the citation. If you feel more time will be needed to resolve the cited issue, you’ll have 15 business days from the date you received your copy of the citation to contest the abatement date and request more time. Rather than waiting for certified mail, you can also request the inspector fax or email the citation(s) once he or she has everything prepared.

Upon receipt of these citations, they must be posted at the worksite, in an area accessible to all workers, for a minimum of three days or until the abatement date. Once the problem has been resolved, please document evidence that the violation has been abated and proof of your compliance.

Follow Up Inspection

In certain instances, OSHA may require a follow-up inspection to confirm any violation(s) has been satisfactorily addressed. If the violation will take some time to clear up, a monitoring inspection may be required. This means an inspector will return to the site to verify the hazard is being addressed and all workers are adequately protected through the abatement process. Monitoring inspections are most commonly reserved for businesses cited for repeat, willful, or very serious hazards.

How to Prepare for an OSHA Inspection in New England

As we previously mentioned, OSHA has limited resources and an inability to inspect every business in Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. By sheer mathematical probability, there is a relatively low chance that OSHA will ever target your business. Noted exceptions are New England businesses in a particularly dangerous field or industry, and workplaces linked to a high volume of work-related accidents, injuries, and illnesses.

Here are three questions used to evaluate the likelihood of an OSHA inspector showing up at your New England business.

1. Does OSHA typically target your industry type? If you’re in a business with a higher risk of imminent danger, for example, a steel plant or refinery, these industries are inspected more frequently.

2. Is the injury rate at your workplace higher than the industry norm?

3. Is the severity of work-related injuries or the number of workers’ compensation claims at your business higher than the industry norm?

Bear in mind that all it takes is one phone call from a disgruntled employee, or one unforeseen mishap, to bring OSHA to your door. Therefore, any workplace runs the risk of being inspected by OSHA. This is why all businesses should be prepared for an OSHA inspection.

Part of being prepared is identifying which OSHA standards are most applicable to your workplace and operations. From there, assess your workplace’s level of OSHA compliance and develop an ongoing action plan to address deficiencies. Among the most common OSHA standards currently cited during inspections are:

• Machine Guarding
• Industrial Trucks
• Scaffolding
• Respiratory Protection
• Electrical/Wiring
• Lockout/Tagout
• Fall Protection
• Bloodborne Pathogens
• Hearing Protection
• Hazard Communication

Here are some examples of recent New England area OSHA violations:

OSHA cites Maine pipe supplier for repeat and serious violations

OSHA cites Maine sawmill for repeat and serious violations of workplace safety standards

Massachusetts Bay Electrical Corp. cited for safety violations in connection with 2 worker fatalities

Massachusetts contractor faces more than $336,000 in US Labor Department OSHA fines for willful, repeat and serious safety violations

OSHA Fines USPS For Safety Violations at Vermont P&DC

OSHA cites North Kingstown, Rhode Island, rigging manufacturer for 18 serious safety violations following worker’s death

OSHA finds safety violations in Connecticut worker’s death

OSHA cites New Hampshire roofing contractor for willful and serious violations and fall hazards

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A Commitment to Safety Generally Ensures OSHA Compliancy

Rather than be preoccupied with what’s necessary for OSHA compliance, always remember the point of OSHA standards; to ensure workplaces are adequately protecting workers from work-related injuries, fatalities, and illnesses. A commitment to worker safety will generally mean OSHA compliance and less of an ordeal come inspection time.