How to Handle an OSHA Investigation

OSHA-Investigation.gifEvery company cares about safety and health in the workplace and want their employees to remain healthy. In an effort to protect their employees, companies invest substantial time, effort, and money in trying to create safe and healthy work environments. They would do this without regard to government regulation. Managing compliance with federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements, however, is an indispensable part of managing safety in this day and age.

In an OSHA investigation, there is not only a review of on-site conditions or records, but also a concentrated effort to unearth information from the past as well as the present. This is done partially through observation and casual questioning regarding conditions; but more importantly, it is done through an in-depth examination of documents and utilization of private one-on-one witness interviews, including both hourly and supervisory personnel.

An OSHA compliance officer is a professional investigator, whereas a contractor is not. Contractors must be aware of and prepared to respond to the questions that may be asked in interviews. Will the questions be properly phrased to illicit the truth or will they be confusing to the witness? Can the witness have assistance from the contractor? What if OSHA demands documents that you do not believe you should have to turn over? Can OSHA hold a contractor responsible for past events? Can OSHA increase enforcement because of conditions a contractor had notice of previously? 

These are all questions that contractors need answered so that they can protect their employees and their company if an OSHA compliance officer happens to come knocking at their door.


When an OSHA compliance officer  shows up at your job site, it is almost  always an enforcement event and not just an inspection related to specific conditions or an audit of records – and it is rarely, if ever, a “random” inspection. Prudent contractors should be prepared in advance because OSHA has shifted to an enforcement strategy involving inspections and citations, rather than a compliance strategy involving education and prevention.

It is in every contractor’s interest not only to be safe, but also to have a good safety compliance record. It is important to safeguard the company’s interest in all types of OSHA events. Many companies receive regular OSHA inspections, while many other companies never get inspected. All companies have continuing affirmative obligations and all are potentially subject to an investigation by OSHA at any time. It is also in every company’s interest that it not be subjected to unfair investigative techniques and that OSHA’s factual findings are not based on inappropriate speculation.

Inspections and investigations by OSHA are initiated for any number of reasons. If a compliance officer is on your job site, you first need to know why. And the answer can significantly affect how you respond. In the case of a fatal accident, you know why an investigation is being initiated.

A fatal accident is the worst thing that can happen at the job site. It affects every employee. One minute, everything is fine and no one can imagine that something terrible is about to happen. The next minute, everyone on the property is in shock. The unimaginable has happened. Not only is the event emotionally devastating, it also throws the company immediately into a legal morass.

Company officials need to be prepared to respond to serious situations that they hope will never happen