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One of the more common questions we get from our clients is “what do we do when OSHA shows up? Seems like everyone just goes blank”.

No doubt, it can be stressful. It’s sure not we planned for. And every time somebody says the wrong thing, it can cost thousands.

If OSHA shows up, here are some simple steps we recommend our clients follow:

1. Check their credentials!!

Every Compliance Safety & Health Officer (C-SHO) will have a photo ID that will confirm they are from the USDOL – OSHA. We do this for several reasons:

  • On first impression, the C-SHO realizes that you have been trained for their visit and you know what you are doing
  • It is your first step in showing safety preparedness
  • It is a strong security measure, as is shows that you check the credentials of everyone who comes into your building.

2. Obtain their information

  • Ask for a business card. Every C-SHO has one. If they “forgot them”, ask their name, what regional office they are from, and the office phone number.
  • Politely ask them to have a seat in the lobby and call that regional office to confirm the legitimacy of the visit.

3. Ask the reason for the visit

Much like a police officer, they must have a cause or reason for the visit. They cannot just make random visits.

Common reasons will be:

  • Investigation of a reported illness, accident, or fatality
  • They saw a hazard as they were driving by
  • Enforcement of a National Emphasis Program (NEP) or a Local Emphasis
    Program (LEP)
  • Statistics based visit (used in high-risk industries), based on annual 300 log
    recordings (site specific targeting – SST)

Right now, most of their visits are still virtual, which eliminates the building tour. Our experience in the past 18 months is that they seem focused on documentation and the “paper trail”. Employee interviews is another area where mistakes made will cost money.

If the C-SHO is going to interview your employees, we suggest the following:

A. Tell your employees to be honest!

The C-SHO is a trained investigator and attempts to falsify or cover up information will only result in more severe penalties.

B. Answer the question they ask. That’s all.

If they ask a yes or no question, answer yes or no.  Nothing more.  As I tell my clients, “If they ask you the time, tell them the time.  Don’t tell them how to build the watch”. They may wait and try to create an uncomfortable silence to try to trick the employee into “babbling” to break the silence.  I look back and laugh when I recall one nursing home administrator who, during that silent pause, took her phone out and started playing “Candy Crush”.  Don’t be tricked or intimidated.

C. Write down the questions they ask.

Nothing in the rules says you can’t take notes.  It will help afterwards in allowing management to know where they are going in the survey, and what to expect.

D. If they ask if they can record the interview, the answer is NO!!!

If the OSHA inspector asks if there is an objection to the inspector recording the interview, we advise our clients to decline the request.  Blame it on your attorney if you need to justify the response, but do not allow them to record.

E. Let the OSHA inspector conduct the interview. 

There is no need to volunteer information unless it is clear that the C-SHO misunderstands the situation, in which case the employee may want to volunteer clarifying information. Do not offer information or answer the question “the way you thought he wanted you to”.

F. DO NOT sign anything

If the C-SHO asks you to sign a statement or his/her notes, say NO!  Employees are not required to sign any statement indicating that the statement accurately recounts what they said.

Finally, at the end of the survey, ask for a summation conference, requesting the C-SHO to summarize his / her findings, and what you can expect in his/her report.


In our next article:

What to do when the report / citation arrives!

In the meantime,

Stay safe and stay in touch!

Steve Wilder

President and CEO

Sorensen, Wilder & Associates

Bradley, IL


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