California businesses can expect more inspections in the coming years as Cal/OSHA ramps up its personnel after its workforce was cut back as a result of the effects of the Great Recession that started in 2008.
In 2015, Cal/OSHA inspections reached the highest level in five years and the number of violations cited was the most since 2008, according to the workplace safety agency. Inspectors were also writing out more serious violations – also the highest since 2008.
As the agency continues to beef up its ranks of inspectors, Cal/OSHA will be able to visit more workplaces in the coming years. So, if you’ve been complacent about workplace safety, now is the time to make a change so that you are not hit with citations if your facilities are inspected.
Cal/OSHA has been working to rebuild its inspection force since it was severely curtailed after the recession took hold in 2008. Since the state economy has been recovering, the agency has started hiring new inspectors in positions that were lost to attrition.
While the numbers are ticking upwards, the number of inspections and resulting fines are nowhere near the amounts from the early 2000s.
Although any worksite can be inspected at random, or as part of a special emphasis program on a certain industry, the majority of inspections are in response to workplace injuries or complaints about unsafe workplaces – mostly by employees.
Construction by far received the most onsite inspections in 2015, at more than 2,500, a third of the total. It was followed by the services industry (more than 1,700) and manufacturing (1,200-plus).
Construction also was on the receiving end of the most citations, at more than 5,500, followed by manufacturing, at almost 4,700, and services at more than 3,800 alleged violations.
Manufacturing had the highest percentage of serious violations, at 26%. The lowest was public administration – at 8%.
While you might feel that your business flies under the radar and it could be 15 or 20 years until you are inspected, the best bet is to play it safe.
Safety and Health magazine recommends taking the following approach to surviving an OSHA inspection:
Establish a response plan
You should have in place an action plan that outlines procedures to follow in case OSHA comes calling.
Start by appointing one of your staff, preferably one involved in safety, to be responsible for escorting the inspector. Have an alternate on staff as well, in case your designee is away from work on inspection day.
You should select a room for opening and closing conferences with the inspector.
Sometimes an employee representative is invited to join these meetings. You can have your safety committee appoint a representative.
To make sure you’re dealing with a bona fide OSHA inspector, ask to see the person’s identification. The ID will include the inspector’s photo, name and office. It will not be a badge.
You should take note of the inspector’s name, phone number and office.
The inspector will ask your designated representative to join him for an opening conference, during which he will explain what prompted the inspection and provide backup documentation.
Next he will explain what he will be inspecting, including details like machinery and procedures. But mind you, if the inspector spies a safety violation that is outside the parameters of the inspection, he may investigate further.
Your point person should know the basic information of the facility, like the types of work being performed, how many employees there are, the names of supervisors and managers, and how to quickly produce injury logs upon request.
If you are prepared, you’re likely to be treated more fairly than if you’re unorganized and have incomplete documentation. If the inspector finds holes in your logs, you can expect that the inspection will be expanded.
During the walkaround
Courteously show the inspector the areas of operation he asks to see and make sure your point person and management act professionally.
Don’t offer to show areas that the inspector hasn’t asked to see.
Feel free to ask the inspector to postpone the inspection if he shows up at an inconvenient time, such as when production is under deadline pressure and it would be difficult to make accommodations. But keep in mind that this would be a short-term solution, and the compliance officer may not agree to the postponement.
Even if the inspector is willing to put off the walkaround, he will still request various files and will want to take a quick look around to observe operations.