When OSHA Comes Knocking - Part 3 of Our Guide for New Plant Safety Managers

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Courtesy of Antea Group - USA

You, the new plant safety manager, just left your first one-on-one plant manager meeting (as we talked about in our second blog in this series) and you are on cloud nine! You have just received the commitment you requested from the plant manager and you are so relieved that the meeting was successful.

Then your supervisor comes into your office, sits down in front of your desk, and begins a serious conversation about how OSHA is a frequent visitor to the plant. She tells you that these visits frequently cause confusion throughout the organization because no one knows what to do. Your supervisor no sooner begins talking, though, when her phone rings and off she runs to a meeting, leaving the discussion unfinished.

Now that you are alone in your office, you can't help but think that your supervisor's next comment was going to be that it is your responsibility to ensure management is prepared for the next OSHA visit. This scenario marks the all-important step three in your journey to excel as a new plant safety person, so let’s make sure you’re ready.

Why OSHA May Come Knocking

Each year OSHA conducts tens of thousands of inspections, with that number increasing by at least 300 in 2016 alone, so it is always important to have a well thought-out plan. OSHA inspection categories are listed below, in the order of priority:

  • Imminent Danger
  • Fatality or Catastrophe
  • Complaint or Referral
  • Programmed Inspection
  • Special Emphasis Programs: National/Regional/Local
  • Follow-up

(This OSHA Fact Sheet provides more specific information on OSHA inspections.)

The OSHA Complaint Process

As the plant safety person, you need to be aware that employees may file a complaint with OSHA via several different channels--online, by fax, by mail, or over the telephone. (Find additional information on the complaint process here.)

Once received, OSHA will prioritize the complaint based on its severity. For lower-priority hazards, OSHA may telephone the plant and follow up with a fax describing the alleged safety and health hazards. The employer must respond in writing within five working days noting corrective actions taken or planned. However, depending on the complaint, the OSHA inspector may also determine an inspection is necessary.

Now that you know why OSHA may visit, it’s time to get prepared! This post specifically addresses pre-inspection preparation and procedure. A future post will dive deeper into what to do when your inspector actually arrives.

Pre-inspection Preparation

1. Start Things Off Right: Whether you have a receptionist to greet and direct visitors or whether you have a phone with plant contacts clearly posted, it is important to instruct the first person that has contact with the OSHA compliance officer about the procedure to follow. If you do not have a receptionist, identify a number to call if a Compliance Officer arrives at the plant. For instance the phone contact list could state: “OSHA visitors please contact this number”.

The number listed must have 100% coverage during working hours and the person answering the phone should know to contact the plant safety person immediately if the caller is an OSHA compliance officer. A backup safety person should be identified to take into account absences related to off-site meetings, vacations, sick leave.

2. Location Matters: The pre-inspection procedure should identify the location where the compliance officer will be escorted to discuss the purpose of the visit and conduct an opening conference. The best location is a conference room, but an alternate area must be identified in case all conference rooms are busy.

3. Keep Confidentiality in Mind: Ensure you are aware of sources or areas of confidential trade secret information prior to an inspection and document this in your procedure. Check with your corporate EH&S office or company legal counsel to determine how this should be addressed. One way to handle this is to confirm with the inspector that photographs of confidential areas or documents will be noted as trade secret in the OSHA file.

4. Determine Representatives: State in your pre-inspection procedure who will represent the workers and accompany the OSHA inspector during inspection. If there are one or more unions, each union will choose a representative. Typically the union representatives will be part of the inspection only when the inspection is in their area. If not represented by a union, employees may choose a representative. (Note that the employer never chooses the worker representative.)

Your pre-inspection procedure should also identify individuals in management who will participate in the inspection. These representatives should be knowledgeable about the plant’s operations and it is always a good idea to have someone from maintenance be part of the management team that accompanies the inspector.

5. Assign Roles: List the names of the individuals in the pre-inspection procedure who will be the management spokesperson, the person responsible for taking notes during the walk through inspection (including listing all employees and supervisors interviewed), and the person responsible for taking photographs and videos at the same location and angle the inspector does. List backups to take into account absences relating to off-site meetings, vacations and sick leave. Once the employees are identified, ensure each knows their role.

6. Locate Relevant Records: Know the location of applicable records such as the OSHA log and supplemental forms for the past five years and written programs including Hazard Communication, Control of Hazardous Energy, Confined Space, Industrial Hygiene sampling reports, and training records. (NOTE that this is a limited list and OSHA may request other items.) Make certain all information is up-to-date and readily accessible, and provide information to OSHA only upon request. In your pre-inspection procedure, state where the information is located.

7. Make the Corporate Connection: Check with your corporate EH&S person and determine if you are required to notify anyone within the corporate office that an OSHA compliance officer is at your plant. If you are required to make notification, list their names and contact numbers in your pre-inspection procedure.

An Ounce of Preparation…

It is important to ensure the information contained in the pre-inspection procedure remains up-to-date. When individuals leave the company or change jobs internally, the document must be updated immediately. Also, establishing a specific review cadence of quarterly or twice a year is important.

Documenting the seven points listed above in a pre-inspection procedure and ensuring all individuals are aware of their role will minimize confusion should OSHA come knocking, and being prepared is half the battle.

Stay tuned for the next post, 'What To Do When OSHA Arrives,' coming soon.

In the meantime, catch up on posts one and two, or learn more about Antea Group's compliance support services.

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