Understanding the OSHA Inspection Process
Many contractors consider OSHA to be a real thorn in the side. This is unfortunate, because the agency exists to protect you and your workers from injury, loss and liability. There will be occasions when you have an accident on site and OSHA will come in to inspect the area and issue violations. Understanding the how and why of the OSHA inspection process can save you a lot of time and grief.
Reasons for Investigations
There are three main reasons that OSHA conducts site inspections and investigations. The first of these is that the organization believes there is an imminent danger to your workers present. The second is if a catastrophic accident results in death or serious injury, and the third reason is when a job site is subject to a number of complaints from workers.
As a contractor, you can refuse an OSHA inspection when they show up on site. However, this doesn’t mean the investigation won’t happen. It does mean that the organization can come back with a court order or compulsory mandate that requires the inspection. Understand that if you force them to get a mandate, they will be less likely to show lenience on minor violations.
If a Violation Is Found
If OSHA does issue a citation, you have fifteen days to respond and defend against reported violations. This defense will occur through either an informal conference or a formal hearing. The faster you respond to infractions, the better able you will be to reduce any fines or citations. Make sure that if the violations are legitimate, you address the problems quickly and decisively and are able to show that you’ve taken care of the issue. This way your penalties will be far lessened.
Most Common Violations
The most common violations of OSHA standards involve common safety and security issues. The single most common citation handed out by the agency is for falls. These accidents create more jobsite fatalities than any other issue. In fact, in 2013, over 300 deaths were reported as a result of falling accidents. This is from a total of over 825 deaths in the industry.
Second to falls is hazard communication, where improper signage or warnings of dangerous conditions are present. Third comes scaffolding safety issues. They collapse and workers have accidents due to improper securing of the devices. Fourth among violations are the use of respirators (or failure to use them, more accurately) to protect workers from harmful gases or fumes. Finally, the fifth most common violation cited relates to heavy equipment such as hand trucks, pallet trucks, forklifts and other heavy machinery. One in six fatalities at the workplace are caused by accidents related to heavy equipment.
At some point, almost every contractor faces an OSHA inspection and potential violation. Having the right insurance coverage can protect you from the financial losses you can face as a result of the accidents that lead to these investigations.