Many employers are worried about workplace safety inspections right now, especially because of COVID-19 requirements. There’s lots of confusion about requirements and enforcement. Let’s face it – with the economic impacts of full and partial shutdowns, an expensive fine or citation is the last thing that employers want or need right now. Luckily, there’s a new video that explains the workplace safety inspection process and gives some insight into how you can be prepared.

Comparing OSHA to Washington DOSH

The video was produced by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. In Washington state, we’re more familiar with DOSH, the Division of Safety and Health, but their missions and the way they operate are nearly the same. Washington is a state plan state, meaning that we use DOSH to enforce regulations that are equal to (or stronger than) the OSHA regulations. Every state must use OSHA or have a state plan.

So, even though most employers in Washington answer to DOSH, the information in this OSHA video is almost exactly what you would experience with a workplace safety inspection in Washington state.

Let’s face it – with the economic impacts of COVID-19 shutdowns, an expensive fine or citation is the last thing that employers want or need right now.

Why do Workplace Safety Inspections take place?

For example, the OSHA video begins with a list of the reasons that a workplace inspection can take place. These reasons are exactly the same for DOSH in Washington:

  • “Imminent danger” situations, where death or serious physical injury could happen immediately.
  • Workplace fatalities and hospitalizations.
  • Amputations or loss of an eye.
  • Complaints and referrals concerning potentially hazardous conditions.
  • Follow-up or monitoring inspections.
  • Scheduled inspections

Scheduled inspections are also known as routine inspections in Washington state. These are essentially random, but companies in higher hazard industries (e.g. construction) will be selected more often than lower risk workplaces (e.g. offices).

What should I do if a safety inspector arrives at our workplace?

Although not specified in the video, ALL WORK SHOULD STOP when the inspector arrives. If the inspector has to wait for an authorized representative to arrive, you could select a few workers to walk the site and make sure everything is clean and safe for when the inspector does their walk-around. Otherwise, no work should begin again until after the inspection is complete.

No matter the reason for the inspection, it will operate in the same manner:

  1. Opening conference
  2. Walk-around
  3. Closing conference

The conferences are simply meetings. One thing not mentioned in the OSHA video is that DOSH inspectors will wait for up to one hour for an authorized company representative to arrive at the inspection. It’s crucial to train your employees on a) who is the authorized representative for your company and/or work site and b) to politely ask the inspector to wait for that representative to arrive.

If you are an Approach client, call us as well! When available, our safety team will respond to be on-site at the inspection with you. We can also assist with any follow-up items that result from the inspection.

What is an Opening Conference for a safety inspection?

The opening conference is an introductory meeting. The inspector will talk about the reason for the inspection, the scope, how the walk-around will be conducted, the need for worker representation during the walk-around, and the need to consult with individual workers.

The video shows just the inspector and one company representative, but in Washington state, at least one employee representative is also required to attend.

The inspector will talk privately with the employee representative and/or other workers during the inspection. The video describes sample questions that may be asked during these worker consultations:

  • How long have you worked for the company?
  • Have you or anyone else been injured or had close calls on the job?
  • Does the employer provide PPE?
  • How often does the employer provide training and what is the training composed of?
  • Is there anything you would change to make working conditions safer?

After the walk-around, the authorized representative will meet again with the inspector for the closing conference. This is when findings are discussed, along with any corrective action that is needed. The inspector will also suggest timelines for taking the required action. In both an OSHA and DOSH inspection, any monetary penalties are assessed after the on-site visit. Following the closing conference, you will receive a report in the mail with a list of violations along with monetary penalties.

Both OSHA and DOSH allow 15 days from the citation to take action, which could include contesting the citation or requesting a follow-up meeting.

What is the impact of COVID-19 on safety inspections?

Workplace safety inspections are continuing in Washington state. In fact, you may be more likely to have an inspection now because workplaces are being checked for compliance with Safe Start requirements.

Watch our Safe Start Phase 1 and 2 presentation

Even if COVID-19 Safe Start is the reason for opening the inspection, once the inspection is underway, any other violations are fair game for a citation. So, it’s important to review your entire operations and be prepared!

How can I prepare for a workplace safety inspection?

Both OSHA and DOSH offer employer consultations. These are very much like inspections, except they are scheduled at the employer’s request and no citations are given. However, any hazards found during the consultation must be corrected just as they would following an inspection.

The best thing you can do is make sure your Accident Prevention Plan (also known as a Safety Plan) is updated. Every employer is required to have one and it’s the first thing the inspector will ask to see. Reviewing your plan and ensuring it applies to your business as it operates today is one of the best ways to keep your company operating safely and in compliance.

If you’re an Approach client, contact us for your annual safety visit. We can review your Accident Prevention Plan, provide templates for updates, and help you decide if a workplace consultation would be beneficial.

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