OSHA audit: What you need to know.


5 minutes read time

January 30, 2020

In 2016, OSHA conducted 31,948 total inspections. This seems like a significant number, but considering OSHA has jurisdiction over approximately 7 million worksites, you soon realize the odds of having an inspection at your worksite is relatively low. But what if it was you? Do you have systems in place good enough to pass the surprise audit that could be at any given time? 

While the likelihood of an OSHA inspection is low for most businesses, being aware of what happens during an OSHA inspection, and preparing for it, will help you have a safer workplace and could mean the difference between a pass or failed result. 

Who is subject to an OSHA audit? 

Apart from workplaces with ten employees, every other organization has the possibility of being audited. OSHA has both unprogrammed and programmed inspections. Unprogrammed inspections include employee complaints, injuries/fatalities, and referrals whereas programmed inspections focus OSHA’s enforcement resources towards the industries and employers where known hazards exist and are prioritized in the following order: 

  1. Imminent danger situations — hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm receive top priority. Compliance officers will ask employers to correct these hazards immediately or remove endangered employees. 
  2. Severe injuries and illnesses — employers must report: 
  • All work-related fatalities within 8 hours. 
  • All work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, or losses of an eye within 24 hours. 
  1. Worker Complaints — allegations of hazards or violations also receive a high priority. Employees may request anonymity when they file complaints. 
  2. Referrals of hazards from other federal, state, or local agencies, individuals, organizations, or the media receive consideration for inspection. 
  3. Targeted inspections — inspections aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses also receive priority. 
  4. Follow-up inspections — checks for abatement of violations cited during previous inspections are also conducted by the agency in certain circumstances.

Do you get notice of an inspection?

Usually, OSHA conducts inspections without advance notice. Employers do have the right to require compliance officers to obtain an inspection warrant before entering the worksite, however, this isn’t a good idea as it could trigger a stricter audit (and raise possible red flags). It’s wiser to give them a good first impression and work with the inspector as much as possible by answering questions honestly (without offering any additional information).   

What happens if you fail an inspection?

If an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, OSHA can issue citations and fines. Violations are categorized as:

The citations describe OSHA requirements allegedly violated, list any proposed penalties, and give a deadline for correcting the alleged hazards.

In settling a penalty, OSHA has a policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith. For serious violations, OSHA may also reduce the proposed penalty based on the gravity of the alleged violation. Alleged willful violations will not have any good faith adjustments.

How do you prepare for an OSHA audit?

The biggest mistake organizations make when they are hit with a surprise audit is that they are not prepared. It seems extremely obvious, but preparing for an audit is often put on the back burner as there are no deadlines; therefore, it is not a priority. 

Instead of putting preparing for an audit in the too hard basket, be proactive, and use an application like WhosOnLocation that will save you time and money in the long-term. WhosOnLocation stores all data electronically; therefore, you will be able to search, sort, analyze, and retrieve data easily and quickly, perfect for an audit situation.

Employers are required by OSHA to perform hazard assessments and safety training for each type of job performed in the workplace. Employers need to make sure that their employees have completed their required training as well as keeping them entirely up to date on what hazards exist for each job and how they plan to reduce those hazards. 

Paper-based systems make this difficult as they are easily lost, hard to update, and even wasteful. Instead, whenever there’s an updated process, or a new hazard or regulation, you can use WhosOnLocation to update the changes electronically and can then be easily distributed out to employees at induction. You can also put employees, contractors and visitors through safety training at sign in and /or induction that asks them to accept that they have completed this training before they are allowed on site. 

To show the auditor you have been following the correct steps, you must keep careful records. WhosOnLocation reports will give you access to information on almost everything you need, including training records, worker compensation files, insurance, and third-party audits, to name just a few data points. You’ll be able to access information during an audit easily.

Whether you’re part of a high-risk or a low-risk industry, there is still a chance you could receive a surprise audit, so you need to make sure you are prepared at all times. There’s no better way to put your mind at ease than to know you’re on top of everything.