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When the OSHA Inspector Comes Knocking

Most contractors have at least considered (maybe with dread) what may happen if an OSHA inspector arrives at a jobsite.  But many contractors fail to do all they can to prepare for an inspection before the inspector arrives.  Here are five key tips to ensure that you are prepared.

1.        Engage a knowledgeable safety specialist.

Engage a consultant who understands applicable safety and health requirements who can provide guidance concerning required safety programs, training and compliance.  Alternatively, take advantage of the consultation programs offered by state or federal OSHA.  Such programs are often offered at no cost to an employer and may assist an employer in establishing effective workplace safety and training programs. 

2.        Have a documented safety program and don’t neglect training. 

Complete, schedule and commit to a periodic review of internal policies to ensure they are up to date and comply with current regulations.  This includes policies for disciplining employees who fail to comply with safety requirements.  More common citations in the construction industry relate to scaffolding, fall protection, training requirements, personal protective equipment and hazard communication.  Ensuring that work sites comply with the health and safety requirements related to these most common mistakes, and that on-site professionals are aware of your own internal safety procedures through periodic training, can reduce citations.  Oftentimes, penalty reductions for good faith are given to an employer simply for having a documented, effective safety program.

3.        Maintain necessary logs and reports.

Create and maintain logs and reports as required by applicable regulations, and ensure these logs and reports are accurate.  Do not falsify reports.  Document safety precautions taken and keep records of safety meetings.  Keeping records of safety protocols, manuals and training may help you obtain a penalty reduction for good faith.

4.        Protect your trade secrets.

OSHA representatives are required to protect the confidentiality of trade secrets, but properly identifying and designating trade secrets prior to any inspection will help ensure appropriate precautions are taken.  The time to determine what constitutes a trade secret and to designate it as such is not while the inspector is on-site or during a subsequent request for information related to the inspection.

5.        Ensure your subcontractors are properly licensed. 

Inspectors in Virginia are now required to ask for proof of Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (“DPOR”) contractors’ licenses—this includes licenses for any subcontractors.  In the event an employer has contracted with an unlicensed subcontractor, the inspector will make a written referral to DPOR and, in some cases, the Virginia Employment Commission (“VEC”) and/or the Virginia Worker’s Compensation Commission (“VWCC”).  This may result in other penalties.

Taking action now to ensure a safe work environment can reduce or eliminate citations, minimize disruption and ensure a favorable outcome for employers in the event of an inspection.  Effective legal counsel can help ensure compliance with applicable law and assist during a citation contest.

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