The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established in 1971 under the U.S. Department of Labor. Its main purpose is to create safer workplaces in the U.S. by enacting the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA is also responsible for developing enforceable safety standards and regulations that employers must comply with. Moreover, the agency conducts periodic inspections of workplaces to identify imminent threats and violations.
The establishment of OSHA has been instrumental in reducing the number of workplace injuries and fatalities. OSHA covers employees in most private sector companies and federal organizations. Despite its consistent efforts, various misconceptions surround OSHA and its operations. OSHA inspections continue to be one of the most misunderstood aspects.
The myths about OSHA inspections often result in negative attitudes among employers and workers. If you want to be prepared for OSHA inspections, it is essential to be aware of these misconceptions. It becomes all the more crucial because OSHA inspectors can come knocking on your door unannounced. If you fail to cooperate with the officials or violate their guidelines, you will face citations and penalties.
It is, therefore, crucial to identify the misconceptions and break free from the. It is equally crucial to what your rights are in case of an impromptu OSHA inspection. Here are a few common myths about OSHA inspections:
1. OSHA Makes Money from Citations & Penalties
OSHA inspectors are often perceived as corrupt government officials who earn monetary incentives by imposing fines. It is also believed that OSHA is a self-funded organization that funds its operations through penalties collected from various companies. Consequently, employers often don’t cooperate with OSHA inspectors and neglect their citations.
However, it is important to point out that penalties collected from companies under federal OSHA go to the U.S. Department of Treasury. Likewise, fines collected by OSHA-approved state offices go to the state government’s treasury. It is also important to remember that federal OSHA states are funded by the federal government. OSHA-approved state plans receive their funding from the federal government as well as the state’s revenue.
The only reason an OSHA official may cite your business or impose a fine is to safeguard your employees from a potential hazard. You should always pay heed to their citations and work on minimizing the violations and threats.
2. OSHA can Inspect Your Workplace Without a Warrant
If OSHA inspectors arrive at your doorstep without a warrant, you can refuse to allow the inspection. It is, however, worth mentioning that OSHA can easily obtain a warrant for a regular inspection. OSHA can also get a warrant if they can prove that there is a likelihood of a safety violation at your workplace.
Asking for a warrant will only buy you some time to prepare for the inspection. Moreover, it limits the scope of the inspection to areas that are mentioned in the warrant.
3. Inviting OSHA To Inspect Your Business Makes You Immune To Citations
This is one of the biggest myths about OSHA inspections. First, when you invite OSHA to inspect your workplace, the agency sends a consulting team instead of an inspection team. The consulting team identifies any potential violations and gives you a deadline to rectify them. If you fix all the violations within the given period, OSHA isn’t notified.
However, if you fail to correct them, the consulting team will notify OSHA, and you will likely receive a citation. Thus, inviting OSHA to inspect your workplace doesn’t safeguard you from citations. Moreover, working with a consulting team doesn’t make you immune to OSHA inspections. OSHA can still inspect your premises if it receives a complaint from an employee or if there is a major accident.
This shouldn’t discourage you from inviting OSHA to inspect your business. At the very least, it will help you identify any potential threats before an employee is seriously injured. This is particularly crucial for high-risk workplaces such as manufacturing units, construction sites, etc.
4. OSHA Only Targets Big Companies
Big businesses employing hundreds or thousands of workers are often given higher priority for OSHA inspections. This is simply because there are more lives at stake. However, it doesn’t make small companies with a handful of employees immune to OSHA inspections.
Apart from the size of a company, OSHA considers the perceived level of risk associated with a workplace. It also takes into account additional factors such as employee complaints and the history of workplace injuries and fatalities. If you run a small business with potentially hazardous working conditions, OSHA inspectors will come after you.
Any business, irrespective of its scale and nature, can be inspected and cited by OSHA. The inspection triggered by a fatality or a serious injury. Having said that, businesses employing less than 10 workers aren’t obligated to report illnesses and injuries.
5. Employees Should Stop Working During An OSHA Inspection
The purpose of an OSHA inspection is to ensure that employees are working in a safe and risk-free environment. Ordering your employees to halt regular business operations during the inspection defeats its purpose. Moreover, it can lead to legal repercussions and additional penalties.
It is, therefore, recommended that you let your employees continue with their routine work. You can even train them on the steps to take during an inspection. Make sure they cooperate with the inspector and give proper answers to their questions.
6. OSHA Can Order A Shutdown Or Arrest
If an OSHA compliance officer identifies an imminent threat to employees, they can request you to remove workers from the hazardous environment. However, OSHA inspectors don’t have the authority to order the complete shutdown of a worksite. It requires a court order meaning it is up to the discretion of the court.
Likewise, OSHA officials don’t have the authority to press criminal charges during or after an inspection. Any cases of suspected criminal nature are to be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice. It is up to the Justice Department to take appropriate action.
7. OSHA Cites Staffing Agencies/Contractors For Violations Involving Contractual Employees
Just because you haven’t directly hired an employee, it doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for ensuring their safety and wellbeing. According to OSHA’s guidelines, both staffing agencies and host employees are responsible for the safety and health of contractual workers. If a temporary employee is involved in a workplace accident, you will be held liable.
It is, therefore, crucial to ensure that temporary employees are also included in your workplace safety program. Additionally, you should provide them with adequate training to operate high-risk tools and equipment.
The purpose of OSHA inspections is to create a safer workplace for employees irrespective of the size of a company. OSHA compliance officers identify high-risk work environments and compel employers to rectify any violations. You will only benefit from cooperating with them and adhering to their guidelines.
Identifying and abolishing the myths about OSHA inspections is crucial for the safety and wellbeing of your workers. It will also make you aware of your rights in the event of an impromptu inspection. Moreover, it will equip you with the right knowledge to prepare your employees for such an event.
Have you come across any other myths associated with OSHA inspections? Share your views in the comments section below.