Well, your day got off on the wrong foot. Now that the compliance officer from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is here, what do you do? How do you act? What are the “right and wrong” actions, words—everything?
First, never refuse access or attempt to block the OSHA officer’s attempts to proceed. In most cases, he or she can get a court order within minutes simply by using a smart phone. You will have also shown your “spirit of cooperation,” and can expect an unfortunate look at the officer’s as well.
If the key players from your organization aren’t on the premises, you have the right to ask the compliance officer to have a seat in the lobby and wait. A wait of up to 30 minutes is considered reasonable. Just the same, if the key players aren’t there or won’t be in, don’t expect the compliance officer to come back another time—he or she will proceed with whomever you have available. The burden of being prepared is on you!
Set the compliance officer up with a quiet place to work and provide the requested documents—but only those documents. As an aside, it’s helpful to know the details of your safety program and where your safety manuals/policies are located; it doesn’t speak well for your program if the compliance officer sees you looking all over for something that should be a daily working document(s). If he or she asks you a question regarding a policy or practice and you don’t know the answer, say that you don’t know but will find out. Never try to wiggle your way through by making up an answer.
When it is time for the walk-around tour, take the compliance officer where he or she needs to go and nowhere else. You may be proud of your facility and want to show it off, but that doesn’t mean they will see it in the same light as you. Just think of this Golden Rule: The officer only goes where they need to be.
If he or she requests to see an area where some type of personal protective equipment is required, then require them to wear it—and make sure you wear it yourself.
Never allow the compliance officer to roam freely. He or she goes nowhere without you as an escort.
Equally important are the observations that are documented. As you are touring, if the compliance officer takes a photo, ask what was observed that caused him or her to take the picture and then take a picture of that same thing. If he or she writes something down that was spoken, you make a note of the same quote. And if the compliance officer provides suggestions for correcting a deficiency, ask if he or she will allow you to correct it before they leave; it doesn’t guarantee you won’t be cited for it, but it shows good faith.
Your company must rehearse for unannounced visits. When it happens, it should be a seamless response on your end. This makes a good first impression and speaks highly for your organization. Designate points of contact and alternates. Then train these people so that any of them can step in and represent your company in the best way possible.