How to keep an OSHA inspection running smoothly

by on June 7, 2011 · 3 Comments POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

OSHA inspector: “Do you mind if I take a look around your facilities here?”

Hearing that is enough to give a sinking feeling to most safety directors. After all, 73% of the time, OSHA finds some violation and issues a citation, according to just-released statistics from OSHA.

And while OSHA has worked hard to overcome its reputation for nitpicking, we still hear about inspections where OSHA strains at gnats. One safety director we know said an OSHA inspector spent four hours just on its loading dock before moving on.

Still, if 73% of companies get fined, that means 27% pass muster. Who successfully runs the gauntlet?

They’re companies like yours, which take safety seriously and train/enforce their safety plans. But these companies also take an extra step: They’re well-prepared for the inspection itself.

Bruce Morton, a safety consultant with Platt Construction, Inc., assists companies with OSHA inspections. He recommends taking the following steps to increase your odds of passing an OSHA test:

1. First impressions matter
Several OSHA inspectors told us the first five minutes matter most, and determine whether you’re in for a long day (or months, in some cases) or a short inspection. Two things that impress OSHA inspectors immediately:

  • A bound, updated, well-thumbed copy of the safety plan. A company that’s taken the time to publish its safety plan (even in a notebook) takes safety seriously. Being able to quickly show the OSHA inspector your plan during the opening meeting will make the inspection go more smoothly. If you can’t find it, the OSHA inspector may get suspicious.
  • No obvious violations. The facility or work site is clean and organized, and there isn’t an immediate violation apparent. If you think there may be a problem, call that section of the plant or work site and have employees focus on cleanup.

2. Understand why OSHA’s there
It helps to know why OSHA has shown up. Ask the OSHA inspector during the opening meeting what brought them to your site. Did they get a complaint?

If so, you should have received notice of it already and had an opportunity to correct it. If you’ve corrected it, show the OSHA inspector your fixes and related documentation. Sometimes workers complain again if they don’t like the fix or want to get back at your company, but OSHA will make its own judgment about the fix.

If it’s a random inspection, they’re probably looking for hazards specific to your region or industry. Know ahead of time what they are and be prepared to explain your safety procedures (including documented enforcement) to the inspector.

If you look like you’re prepared to answer questions, OSHA will likely trust those answers more.

3. Document the inspection
Don’t rely on OSHA inspectors to give you their materials. Have your own camera ready and take the same pictures, from the same angles, that the OSHA inspector does.

You can’t stop OSHA from interviewing employees and supervisors, but you can be present during the interview. Take your own notes. Whatever the OSHA inspector writes down, you write down.

Having your own documentation of the inspection ensures that there will be fewer facts in dispute later on, and will keep the inspector on his or her toes. (Be polite while doing this, of course.)

4. Make fixes immediately
The OSHA inspector may suggest safety fixes. If so, stop work and have workers fix the problems immediately.

Quick response shows you take safety seriously. If it’s a first offense and you otherwise show good faith, the inspector may just give you a warning.


  • instructing a worker to enable a machine guard
  • clearing a blocked exit, aisleway, or corridor, and/or
  • having a worker tie off when using his fall-arrest system.

Bottom line: It’s OK to make quick fixes. It doesn’t show guilt – instead it shows your willingness to cooperate and your commitment to safety.

5. Don’t complain, argue or agree
Answer only the questions the inspector asks. Don’t complain, argue or agree. Stick to factual answers, such as, “This is our procedure.” Or, “We respond to violations with this system.”

Staying focused (and not admitting guilt or explaining excessively) helps the inspection go more smoothly and doesn’t give the inspector ammo to use later in OSHA court.

It also doesn’t make the inspector defensive or bring his or her attention to problems he hasn’t thought of.

Source: Morton,

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3 Comments on This Post

  1. Alihale
    November 10, 2011 - 6:21 pm

    thank god you wrote this.
    i love it and find it very helpful as someone who is a woman and quite younger then may of my employees/ inspectors, i am easily intimidated when I hear news of inspections and meetings.

  2. SafetyGuy26
    January 22, 2012 - 12:38 pm

    Mostly true but an OSHA inspector can, and will speak with employees in private. Management may not be present.

  3. SafetyGuy26
    January 22, 2012 - 12:38 pm

    Mostly true but an OSHA inspector can, and will speak with employees in private. Management may not be present.

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