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When OSHA Comes Knocking

By Daniel Plumly

June 1, 2017

If you run a business, chances are that one day, OSHA will come tapping and rapping at your door, to paraphrase Edgar Allan Poe.   How should you respond? 

  1. Will you open wide the door and allow the inspector unfettered access? While business owners often believe the approach of cooperating fully will lead to a more lenient inspection, the OSHA field inspection manual instructs the compliance officer to cite violations that are encountered.   Consequently, even if you are confident that you have nothing to hide, full and complete access may not be in your best interest. 
  1. Should you inquire about the purpose of the inspection? Is the inspection in response to an employee complaint? Or is it based on a particular area of emphasis in your specific industry? You are entitled to know why the OSHA inspector is at your premises, but not who the complainant is if the inspection is complaint-driven. Depending on the reason for the inspection, however, you may be able to limit the OSHA compliance officer’s access to the specific areas that are the subject of the complaint or the emphasis program.  
  1. Should you demand a warrant for the inspection before you admit the inspector? You are permitted to request that OSHA produce a warrant. This is my recommended approach because it provides the best protection to the employer.  Based upon the content of the warrant you have protection if the authority of the warrant is exceeded or a violation is not in plain sight.  I have found if you request the warrant in a polite and professional manner, when the compliance officer returns to your premises with a warrant, the inspection is no more onerous than without a warrant. 
  1. Should you call your lawyer? OSHA inspectors will almost always allow you a reasonable amount of time to confer with your attorney, and even await your attorney’s arrival before commencing the inspection.  Asserting this right does not make you look guilty.  Most inspectors welcome the presence of an attorney to help you navigate the process. 

If handled properly the inspection can be done in an orderly and often times limited manner, in which event the inspection may be “nevermore”.   

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