Preparing for an OSHA Inspection

Navigate the dreaded surprise visits with these tips.

No one likes dentist appointments, but at least you know when they’re coming. The same can’t be said about OSHA inspections. You never know when one will happen, and instead of walking away with a new toothbrush and that dentist-fresh feeling in your mouth, you could away with a list of violations that leads to costly citations.

Onsite inspections can be triggered by formal employee complaints, severe injuries and illnesses, and imminent danger. Programmed inspections are regular visits to sites deemed hazardous.

Even if you don’t know when or if an inspector is coming, you can and should plan in advance for these visits. It’s crucial to know what to do when the inspector arrives.

Review your safety policies and training programs

Prepare well in advance by reviewing the top 10 most frequently cited standards and see where you stand on each. Are you using adequate fall protection, for example? Are you actually following the procedures defined in your hazard communications program? Make safety and training programs a priority for solving known safety hazards. Remember that inspectors check to see if companies are using engineering controls to solve noise and health hazards.

Create an inspection team

Creating an internal inspection team strengthens your response to an inspection. Team members should understand company policies and be able to speak about company operations. They should also understand how your company complies with OSHA standards and the documents required for those standards.

Know what’s allowed

Companies have the right to know the purpose and scope of the inspection and to set boundaries.

  • OSHA cannot inspect without a valid reason.
  • If a complaint prompts the inspection, ask for copy of the complaint.
  • You can require that the inspector follow all safety rules and wear appropriate PPE.
  • An inspection may cover the entire jobsite or a few operational areas. OSHA must conduct inspections during a reasonable time within normal operating hours. Inspectors cannot conduct a lengthy full-facility inspection without justification.
  • Companies have the right to legal counsel during an inspection. Be aware, though, that an inspector may interpret the presence of legal counsel as an indicator that serious concerns exist.
  • Inspectors will talk with non-management employees about their training and general safety topics. Employees may voluntarily speak with the inspector but have the right to decline an interview or to end an interview at any time. Employees may request to have someone else (such as a supervisor, management rep, union rep or lawyer) present during the interview.


Prepare for the opening conference

At the opening conference, employee representatives, management and the internal inspection team meet with the inspector. The inspector explains the purpose of the inspection and the areas of the worksite involved in the scope of the inspection. OSHA also uses the opening conference to determine if subcontractors work at the jobsite and if subcontractor representatives should participate.  

Inspectors check 300 logs, 300A summary forms, 301 incident reports, training records and other required documents. Keep a list of all documents that your team provides during the opening conference. 

Don’t misrepresent or obstruct access to required information. Failing to produce required records results in citations and penalties.

That said, your inspection team should limit information to the specific request made by OSHA. Granting access to records not required by OSHA standards allows the inspector to broaden the scope of the inspection.

Prepare for the walkaround inspection

The walkaround inspection is the critical part of the inspection and includes:

  • Employee interviews (which may turn up additional complaints from workers6)
  • Pinpointing hazards
  • An overview of past incidents

Most evidence about a violation surface during the walkaround. OSHA will cite any violation in their line of site.

During the walkaround, the inspector has the right to take photos and video, take measurements and test the environmental quality of the workplace. Tell your inspection team to capture the same images, video, measurements and environmental tests.

The closing conference

The closing conference may include a smaller group than the closing conference — for instance, just the inspector and management. Inspectors use this forum to disclose violations and explain which violations merit a citation. Your team will receive information about correcting hazards and deadlines for compliance.

Planning ahead for an OSHA inspection will allow you to keep your cool if an inspector arrives, avoid broadening the scope of the inspection by accident and skip any last-minute scrambling to provide necessary paperwork. Even more important, the process should help you keep your employees safer.  


While you may still fear the dentist, with proper preparation, you’ll fear an OSHA inspection less. 


John Ross has written about industrial, automotive and consumer technologies for 17 years.

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