How to Survive an OSHA Audit

“Hello. I’m from OSHA and I am here to help you.”

If you own or operate a business, chances are you have heard these dreaded words before. Next to, “Hello. I’m from the Internal Revenue Service,” there are few greetings more inclined to make your knees weak. But it doesn’t have to be that bad.

Even with the seven million workplaces they cover each year, OSHA will most likely find their way to your location. When they do, here are some tips to help you survive your OSHA audit.

Plan for an Inspection

Make sure you have three key items in place prior to the arrival of the OSHA compliance officer (CO):

  1. A determination if you will ask for a warrant
  2. A form to document what occurs during the inspection
  3. All pertinent documentation such as written programs, training records, inspection records, etc.

We recommend you do not require the CO to obtain a warrant before entry unless you need to gain time, such as when a manager or counsel needs to be present. It is your legal right to ask for a warrant but this might trigger a stricter audit (and raise possible red flags). It’s wiser if you simply work with the inspector. Answer questions honestly and fully, but don’t offer additional information unless it will help you avoid citations. Cooperate as long as the inspector remains ethical and reasonable.

Be Prepared

These inspections are without notice so you will want to have all information readily available in anticipation of an impending audit. Here are some items to have prepared:

  • Assignment of responsibilities, to include a “greeting team” to meet the CO
  • Documented training logs
  • Recordkeeping
  • Equipment inspection records
  • Safety and health policies
  • Review of insurance and third-party audits
  • Hazard assessment and abatement
  • Review of previous audits and citations

It is also wise to have a form available to record the inspector’s actions and comments during the inspection. This information will help you understand what transpired and will assist your attorney should you contest the citation or penalty. Items you should record on this form include:

  • The inspector’s name and office telephone number
  • The documents that the inspector reviewed and copied
  • The attendees at the opening and closing conferences
  • The areas that were inspected
  • The employees and union representatives who participated
  • The dates and times when the inspector was onsite

Almost all OSHA inspections begin with a review of written documents. These documents include your injury and illness records, safety manual, OSHA-required programs, OSHA-implied programs, safety procedures, and training records. There are many records and written programs that OSHA does not specifically require to be in writing, but you should have them anyway. These documents are referred to as OSHA-implied records. For example, although OSHA requires every employer to conduct frequent ladder inspections, there is no specific requirement to keep a written record of ladder inspections. The written record in this case could be a log of all ladders with initials and dates of inspection or a tag attached to the ladder with spaces for the inspector to initial and date.

Just to get you used to what you’re in store for, we’ll walk through a mock OSHA audit:

  1. The knock at the door. We recommend escorting the CO to your office or waiting area. This will give you time to gather your documents and “greeting team” to accompany the CO through the inspection.

  2. The opening conference. The officer will explain why OSHA selected your work place for inspection and describe the scope of the inspection. Have your “greeting