Are you next on OSHA’s Priority List?

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If the thought of an OSHA inspection has you shaking, I don’t blame you! But, let’s take a minute to remind ourselves that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is not the enemy. The purpose of an inspection is not to screw you or your business over, but rather to ensure both a safe work environment, as well as the safety and well-being of everyone at the workplace.

Think of a workplace inspection like a doctor’s visit; if we keep our bodies in relatively good shape, have up-to-date immunizations and bloodwork, and well documented medical records, we probably have nothing to fear from an annual or routine check-up. The same goes for your workplace and an OSHA inspection. Keep your work environment free of illness and injury, maintain a safe and healthy work environment, and keep copies of the documents to prove it, and you are likely to pass an inspection without a problem. But of course, not all visits are routine. Sometimes we need to go to the doctor because we have a specific concern that needs to be addressed. Similarly, you may find yourself with an unexpected OSHA on-site inspection if an employee files a complaint, or if there is an incident that deems an OSHA inspection necessary. And this is where the panic sets in… the fear of the unknown.

The question at the top of your list is probably who can OSHA target? I hate to tell you, but essentially anyone can find themselves subject to an OSHA inspection. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA is authorized to conduct workplace inspections to determine whether employers are complying with OSHA standards. That being said, some occupations are far more likely to be inspected than others. For example, workplaces with ten or fewer employees are exempt from random inspections by federal OSHA officials. Some of you can now breathe a sigh of relief. Must be nice! The rest of you, read on.

Many smaller business or low risk jobs are also not on OSHA’s radar unless something goes horribly awry. Why not? OSHA reports jurisdiction over approximately 7 million worksites! That’s a lot. Naturally, they have to prioritize their resources. According to OSHA, “The agency seeks to focus its inspection resources on the most hazardous workplaces.” The list of priorities is as follows: (1) Imminent danger situations, (2) severe injuries and illnesses, (3) worker complaints, (4) referrals of hazards from other federal, state or local agencies, individuals, organizations or the media, (5) targeted inspections, (6) Follow-up inspections. You can find out more details about each reason for inspection here.

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If you are in the business of construction or tree care (like me), we are definitely falling into category five. Targeted inspections are aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and/or illnesses. We can’t help it that we are badass! I think we all know the kinds of accidents and injuries that can occur on the job without me painting you a not so pretty picture. So what are we to do? In the words of Dennis Waitley, “Expect the best, plan for the worst and prepare to be surprised.” Maybe you prefer a sports metaphor? The best defense is a good offense!

Read on for some tips on how to create a safer workplace that is in compliance with OSHA standards, and the ins and outs of an on-site OSHA inspection.

Hans Tielmann