OSHA only has to think a location has a safety problem before they can open up an inspection, but that doesn't mean you can't be prepared for the moment it happens.
So says Frank Marino, a partner at Safety Check Inc. who deals with OSHA inspectors firsthand as a certified safety professional.
“That means if OSHA drives by and sees what they think is important, what they think is a violation, they can open up an inspection,” he said. “They only have to think it might be a problem.”
Marino said that often, OSHA does not initially consider fall protection as immediately dangerous to life in the moment—despite it being the top cited standard according to OSHA's 2021 data. Other frequent citations from 2021 include ladders, hazard communication, scaffolding, fall protection training and eye and face protection.
“If you’re in a 10-foot trench with no shoring, it could collapse at any second,” Marino said.
Keep an eye out for improperly cited violations
OSHA files a violation when they have accumulated evidence, but Marino said there have been times when OSHA has cited violations improperly.
“That’s where you can get some technical advice and consultation, whether from an attorney or a consultant,” he said. “I think sometimes you (the OSHA inspector) get overcited, meaning you cited them twice for the same thing.”
How to respond to OSHA inspectors
Marino said that when OSHA is on site and discussing potential issues it is a good idea to just listen.
“That compliance officer has no authority to make any deals,” he said.
Marino recommends using discretion when discussing site conditions with an OSHA inspector who is on site.
“You don’t want to educate them on what your defense is going to be,” Marino said.
He added that if OSHA is issuing a citation and you start debating why that citation isn’t a violation, “all you’re doing is giving them notes on what you’re going to come in with. I often don’t think that’s a good idea.”
OSHA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, was created in 1970 when the U.S. Congress passed the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The agency’s mission is to “ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance,” according to the organization's website.
The agency has jurisdiction over more than seven million worksites across the U.S. and prioritizes inspection resources, with imminent danger situations getting top priority and severe injuries or illnesses getting the second priority. After that, worker complaints, referrals, targeted inspections and follow-up inspections receive priority in descending order, according to the agency.