There are four stages to an OSHA inspection:
Presentation of credentials.
All OSHA COs carry U.S. Department of Labor credentials bearing his or her photograph and a serial number. When a CO arrives at a business, he or she will display the official credentials and ask to meet the appropriate employer representative. Employers should always insist on seeing the COs credentials, and verify the credentials by phoning the nearest OSHA Area office. CO should expect this and not get upset when this is done. Obviously, if a CO were required to wait an unreasonable amount of time while his or her credentials were being verified, the CO might become suspicious. While the CO’s credentials are being verified, the employer should alert its inspection team (the team should have already been designated either by the safety officer or safety committee long before an inspection begins) to report to a pre-determined and appropriately sized conference room or office.
The CO will explain how the facility was selected for an inspection (e.g., employee complaint, programmed inspections, etc.) and the scope of the inspection (e.g., wall-to-wall inspection or a partial inspection). Generally, if the inspection arises because of an employee complaint or is a follow-up inspection, it will be a partial inspection, focusing on the subject of the complaint or the prior violation. If the CO observes non-compliance that is in “plain view” during a partial inspection however, the CO can legally expand the scope of the inspection to include that activity. Conversely, programmed inspections, which are inspections aimed specifically at high-hazard industries, are generally comprehensive and inclusive and can last weeks and sometimes months, depending on the size of the facility.
The walk around.
After the opening conference, the CO and the inspection team will proceed through the establishment, inspecting work areas for potentially hazardous working conditions. During the walk around, the CO may take samples, photographs, and interview employees. These interviews may be done privately, outside the earshot of the employer. It is important to note, however, that the right to such privacy belongs to the employee, not the OSHA CO. Accordingly, if the employee waives his or her right to such privacy, the employer may observe the interview.
At the conclusion of the inspection, the CO discusses with the employer the safety and health violations observed, and may indicate any violations for which a citation and proposed penalty will be recommended. During the closing conference, the CO does not indicate any proposed penalties. Only the OSHA Area Director has that authority, and only after having received a full report from the CO.
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