The Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforces safe and healthy working conditions for all Americans. With this being said, what happens if there are health concerns or conditions in a workplace that need addressed? In this kind of situation, an investigation might occur so that the OSHA can make sure that the workplace is clear of all hazards and workers are only in the best working conditions. What happens when OSHA comes knocking?
Typically, OSHA will show up when they believe that there is an imminent danger and must conduct an inspection due to a complaint from a current or former employee. If a fatality occurs on-the-job, they may also come to inspect and make sure that conditions were not a cause of the fatality. However, the truth of the matter is that the OSHA cannot possibly inspect all 7 million workplaces that it covers each year. This means they will only come in the most serious situations when hazards are imminent and workers have become injured or killed.
Various Types of OSHA Inspections
- Phone/Fax Investigations: When a complaint is made, the OSHA may choose to telephone the employer to describe safety and health concerns. When this investigation begins, the employer will have five working days to respond in writing and identify the problems found as well as what actions were taken to make sure the hazards were fixed.
- On-Site Inspections: In some situations, the OSHA may want to conduct an on-site inspection. They will conduct an opening conference and inspect for hazards that could lead to employee injury or illness. They will be able to point out apparent violations at this time. After this, results will come in and OSHA may choose to issue citations and fines.
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How Can You Defend Against a Citation?
If OSHA finds a violation during an inspection, a citation may be issued. So how does an employer defend against a citation if they choose to? You may defend against a citation if you lacked knowledge of the violation, no employees were exposed to the hazard, or compliance with the standard was impossible. If the OSHA chooses, they can slap you with the minimum penalty for a serious willful violation, which is $5,000 or the maximum penalty, which is $70,000.
What Should Be Done During Inspections?
OSHA can be accompanied at all times during the investigation by a safety officer. Anything that is discussed could be brought up during litigation if a court hearing ensues, which is why it is of utmost importance to not criminalize yourself as well as your employer or anybody else in the facility. You do not want to give any information prematurely that can be used against you.
You should also note that OSHA has a right to interview employees, even on a private level. The OSHA may be able to speak to employees either on-the-job or off-the-job and should be in contact with the safety officer at all times. If an employee chooses to make a statement during an inspection, they are entitled to any statement that is made. You also should remember that you do not have to offer any information if you choose not to.
When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration becomes involved in your workplace, you may want to know how you can defend your rights. It is important to understand what happens during and after an inspection. Call Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi to find out more about your rights and what you can do after an inspection.