Every employer dreads getting that call: the call that says OSHA is coming knocking. And sometimes it's a surprise visit.
OSHA is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of workers across the country. And when there are immediate dangers that need to be addressed, OSHA is the one to take a closer look.
When OSHA comes calling, it’s important to be prepared. Here’s a closer look at what you can expect from the OSHA investigation process.
The process begins with complaint handling, i.e. what happens after an employee submits a complaint to OSHA. OSHA evaluates each complaint to determine whether it can be handled through an off-site investigation or an on-site investigation.
In order to qualify for an on-site inspection, one of the following eight criteria must be met:
- A written, signed complaint by a current employee with enough detail for OSHA to determine the seriousness of the issue
- A report of imminent danger
- An allegation of physical harm resulting from a hazard that still exists
- A complaint about a company in an industry covered by one of OSHA’s emphasis programs
- A complaint at a facility already undergoing an OSHA investigation
- Referral from a whistleblower investigator
- A complaint against an employer with a history of egregious, willful or failure-to-abate OSHA citations within the past three years
- Inadequate response from an employer made aware of a hazard through a phone/fax investigation
Any complaints that do not meet these criteria are considered low-priority hazards and OSHA will commence a phone/fax investigation with the permission of the complainant.
Phone and Fax Investigations
A phone/fax investigation is initiated in the case of low-priority hazards so that OSHA can address the hazards efficiently. However, it may also be used as a first-line response if one of the above criteria are met.
In a phone/fax investigation, OSHA calls the employer to notify them of the hazard outlined in the complaint and follows up with a fax or letter. The employer must respond within five days to inform OSHA of corrective actions taken. The complainant will receive a copy of the employer’s response.
If this response is adequate, OSHA will not conduct an on-site investigation. However, if the response is not adequate, the complainant may request that OSHA conduct an on-site investigation.
On-site investigations begin with establishing probable cause, i.e. investigating current worksite processes alongside historical worksite data to determine whether there is probable cause for an on-site investigation. If so, OSHA will schedule an inspection.
Upon arrival, an OSHA inspector will present their credentials and hold an opening conference, disclosing the reason behind the current investigation and the scope of the investigation. After the opening conference, the OSHA investigator will conduct a walkaround of the worksite accompanied by an employee representative. They will look for any notable violations of the health and safety code and may also conduct in-person employee interviews.
Navigating the OSHA Investigation Process
While no one wants a visit from OSHA, understanding the OSHA investigation process is the best way to ensure you keep your nose clean and get your safety issues in check.
But for the wellbeing of your employees, the best option is to avoid that situation altogether. That’s where we can help, with compliance obligation software that makes it easy to know when you’re aligned with your regulatory responsibilities.
Want to see our software in action? Get in touch today to learn more.