How does OSHA prepare for an investigation?
Before conducting an inspection, OSHA compliance officers prepare themselves by researching the history of hazardous incidents at the worksite and reviewing the operations and processes in place. They also acquire all the protective and testing equipment needed to make the investigation go as smoothly as possible. When they show up to the workplace, they present their credentials and explain why they are there.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspections can occur at any time. Most of the time, OSHA's compliance safety and health officers will show up for an inspection without providing advance notice. However, in certain extreme circumstances, OSHA may let a company know around 24 hours or less in advance. Many of these situations arise due to alleged worker complaints, accident investigations and any suspicion of imminent danger. Other less dire situations include simply wanting to ensure that the employer will be available should an inspection have to occur after normal business hours.
What can lead to an OSHA investigation?
Since there's no way for OSHA to visit every workplace, there's a list of priorities that inspectors follow to make sure they are addressing the most serious hazards. Imminent situations and fatalities top the list, as one might assume, since these incidents are often the most dire. If there are hazards within a workplace that could cause death or physical harm, it's important to have them eliminated immediately, and also essential for employers to record any deaths or injuries that may have occurred. Also on the list of inspection prioritiesare the following, in this order: complaints, referrals, follow-ups and planned or programmed investigations.
Though OSHA cannot audit every workplace around the country each year, employers must be ready in the event that OSHA decides to inspect their facilities' work sites. Should the possibility of an inspection arise, according to OSHA safety standards, here are six main priorities OSHA investigators consider before pursuing an OSHA investigation in order of agency importance:
1. Immediate Danger
While this is not incredibly common, should an OSHA officer arrive to a job site and immediately see that the employer's workers are in danger, the OSHA official will immediately demand that all endangered employees leave the premises.
After these hazards are addressed and removed, workers will be able to return to their jobs. However, this situation can lead to serious OSHA penalties, especially if it is a repeated or willful violation.
2. Employee injuries, illnesses or deaths
"All companies must report work-related fatalities within 8 hours."
According to OSHA record-keeping standards, all companies must report work-related fatalities within 8 hours, while employers must report all hospitalizations and losses of limb or eyes within 24 hours. This incident usually prompts an immediate OSHA investigation to determine whether the employer was at fault for the accident. The outcome of this particular investigative focus is to remove all job hazards and prevent future incidents.
3. Worker complaints
This kind of investigation receives high priority due to worker protection rights. OSHA makes it easy and confidential for employees to report a safety complaint, and the Whistleblower Protection Act protects these workers from facing serious company retributions for reporting their concerns to OSHA.
4. Federal, state or local hazard referrals
This inspection occurs at the urging of a federal, state or local organization or agency regarding the safety of a workplace. The media could even play a part in prompting this OSHA investigation should journalists uncover a serious safety problem within an enterprise.
5. Targeted inspections
There are certain high-hazard or high-risk industries, such as many manufacturing sectors, where OSHA officials frequently pursue agency investigations. Many of these organizations have higher-than-average rates for illness or injury, making them a serious threat for employee safety and health.
6. Follow-up inspections
This inspection receives the lowest priority because they are following a previous inspection to ensure that all violations were addressed after the visit. However, for certain high-risk industries or repeat violators, these follow-up inspections may receive higher priority.
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