What to Expect During an OSHA Inspection (and How to Prepare)

Safety audit in oil field operation.

A quick way to sound off internal alarms throughout an organization is the announcement that an OSHA inspector has arrived. The perception that surrounds OSHA inspections tends to trend negatively even though the inspections provide necessary oversight and guidance to many businesses and industries. These negative perceptions tend to cause panic in workplaces leading to a chaotic scramble prior to the inspection taking place.

It’s paramount that the entire organization is prepped and alert before the inspection takes place. Because employers who handle an inspection well maintain or heighten their reputation and avoid repercussions. Avoiding panic, stress, and undue fear are key to a professional, well-managed inspection process. And knowledge about the process will help business-owners and employees alike deal with OSHA inspections without anyone losing their cool.


Why is an OSHA Inspection Happening?

OSHA inspections fall into a few major categories, primarily grouped under programmed and unprogrammed inspections. 

  • Programmed inspections are inspections that are based on objective criteria. They happen more often for occupations or organizations in higher-risk industries based on OSHA guidelines. Specific worksites can be selected for inspection based on local, state, regional, or national programs or priorities.
  • Unprogrammed inspections are inspections that are more subjective and targeted. These inspections are triggered by specific examples of hazardous working conditions at a worksite or business. Unprogrammed inspections get flagged to OSHA either via employee complaints or anonymous tips by concerned third-parties.    

Read our “What to Do When OSHA Shows Up: A Manager’s Guide to Navigating an OSHA Inspection” whitepaper for further nuances on what triggers programmed or unprogrammed inspections, and for how a current programmed or unprogrammed inspection can trigger additional inspections.


The OSHA Inspection Process

OSHA inspections are an involved process. We cover the full nine-step process in detail in our OSHA inspection whitepaper and will summarize the most important steps here. While not every inspection involves all nine stages, it’s important to understand every step, in case it comes up during an inspection. The four steps that will definitely be involved are the opening conference, walk-around inspection, interviews, and closing conference.

  • Opening Conference — This is where OSHA lays out their purpose and scope of what they intend to inspect and why. It is the chance for companies to lead with their best foot forward and make a good impression. OSHA will request to review injury and illness report logs and will provide a 4-hour window to submit these logs. This is why it is imperative that these logs be kept up-to-date and are accurate prior to an inspection taking place.
  • Walk-Around Inspection — This step is essentially what it sounds like: the point where the OSHA inspector will physically look at the affected areas relating to the inspection. Assign a company representative to stay with the inspector, guide the inspector through the facility, and pre-plan the route through the facility prior to the walk-around inspection that has been walked and approved by a member of management.
  • Interviews — OSHA inspectors may want to interview employees and members of management that are related to the scope of the inspection. These interviews should be scheduled but they may also take place around the facility during the walk-around inspection. Ensure that employees are advised of their rights whether their interview is scheduled or ad hoc on the facility floor.
  • Closing Conference — The last formal step of the inspection process unless citations are issued. This step can occur anywhere between the day of the walk-around inspection or up to several weeks afterward. The inspector will compile and submit their findings along with any recommendations for citations. Ensure that detailed and thorough notes are taken and that it is clarified if citations are to be expected.


Prepping an OSHA Response Team

The team prepared to respond to an OSHA inspection is a crucial delegation for inspection success. This team should be made up of internal responders, legal counsel, and safety consultants like Optimum to act as the primary points of contact when OSHA inspectors arrive.

Internal responders are sourced from internal team members and should include the location or site manager and the safety director. A knowledge and skilled legal counsel —whether an individual or a team — with previous OSHA inspection experience will help facilitate the inspection and guide organizations on their legal obligations before, during, and after the inspection process.

An experienced safety consultant is a key asset for navigating the additional requirements of the OSHA inspection. A knowledgeable outside safety consultant — such as  — understands the roles each party plays during the inspection and how best to navigate through each step of the process. This will help the entire process go more smoothly and help organizations mitigate citations as best as possible.

Don’t fear upcoming OSHA inspections. Consult our full “What to Do When OSHA Shows Up: A Manager’s Guide to Navigating an OSHA Inspection” whitepaper beforehand, and contact Optimum Safety Management to address question, for additional information, and to act as a formal safety consultant to guide organizations through the inspection process.

For more information on how  can assist with your businesses’ safety needs, contact an expert today, or reach out via phone at 630-759-9908.

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