Dos and Don'ts of Surprise OSHA Inspections

Last September, our team published an episode of OH&S SafetyPod about Surprise Inspections from OSHA—what you should and shouldn’t do should a Safety Compliance Officer come knocking at your workplace. The podcast episode has been a great hit, and has proven to be a useful resource for safety professionals, so I’ve decided to summarize the advice in my column for this issue.

First, of all the best practices I could note, I want to talk about is being polite and cordial with your OSHA representative. Remember that they are there to complete their job and to ensure that your facility is operating as safely as possible to protect the workers that are contributing to your company’s productivity and bottom line. There is no need to be rude or question the OSHA inspector. It is also important that you do not attempt to hide anything from the inspector or evade any questions. Be forthright and transparent at all times.

While being polite and transparent is a must, it is important to know that you do not need to volunteer up information or over-share in an attempt to comply with their wishes. Remember that anything you do say can be taken down and noted as part of the inspection, so be careful to only answer direct questions.

When an inspector is completing the walk-around part of the inspection, be sure to stick with them the entire time. Take notes on where the inspector went within the facility and what they examined. If the inspector snaps a photo of something, you can try to snap the same photo as visual records of everything the inspector observed.

And last but not least, if the Safety Compliance Officer’s trip does result in a violation, fix the issue immediately. When a violation is recorded, OSHA will require a corrective and preventive action plan, the violation will be on the company's public record and there may be a financial penalty assessed. So, it is best to begin working on updating your policies and procedures right away to avoid further penalty.

Ultimately, if you are working to ensure employee safety throughout the days, weeks, months and years, then a pop-up OSHA Inspection will not be a stressful event. If your workplace has been assessed for hazards, there is clear and concise documentation of everything and employees are trained on policies, then you should not have anything to worry about. 

Listen to this episode of OH&S SafetyPod anywhere you can find podcasts or at ohsonline.com/safetypod.

This article originally appeared in the December 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Sydny Shepard is the former editor of Occupational Health & Safety.

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