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OSHA and MSHA Inspections

This blog contains general information about the inspection process from different regulatory agencies governing worker safety. All employees should be aware of the inspection procedures of these agencies. Work performed in a U.S. OSHA regulated state is governed by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Work performed in an OSHA approved Plan State is governed by the that particular state regulatory agency. Work performed on mine properties is governed by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The inspection procedures of OSHA and MOSH are essentially the same. References to OSHA in this section apply to both agencies. MSHA inspections are slightly different than OSHA. Differences between the agencies are pointed out where appropriate.

inspection sign and icon

What Triggers an Inspection?

OSHA can initiate a job site inspection for various reasons. Inspections are conducted according to the following priority schedule.

1. Imminent Danger - Responding to situations of imminent danger is OSHA's highest priority. Imminent danger is a situation that is likely to cause death or serious physical harm. If a compliance officer witnesses any situation they consider to be an imminent danger to workers, they have the right to initiate an inspection.

2. Investigations of Fatalities and Catastrophes - Second priority is given to investigations of fatalities and catastrophic accidents.

3. Response to Employee Complaints - OSHA responds to every complaint they receive. Serious allegations may result in on site inspections.

4. Referrals from Other Agencies - Other government agencies may refer OSHA to work sites to investigate worker safety and health conditions.

5. Programmed Inspections - In construction, work sites listed on the Dodge Reports are chosen randomly for programmed inspections.

6. Follow-up Inspections - OSHA has the right to conduct follow up inspections to verify abatement of previously cited hazards. MSHA schedules inspections of mine properties in a similar manner but conducts far more inspections. Above ground mines, such as quarries, are inspected at least twice a year in addition to accident and complaint investigations. Long term projects at mine sites are almost guaranteed to be inspected by an MSHA compliance officer.

Focused Inspection Program

OSHA's Focused Inspection Program was created to focus on the major hazards in the construction industry. The program allows limited scope inspections for employers with strong safety and health programs. The program focuses on the four main hazards in construction: fall hazards; electrical hazards; caught in/between hazards (ex. trench collapse); struck by hazards. A focused inspection is usually much quicker than a comprehensive inspection. To qualify for a focused inspection an employer must do two things. 1. Have evidence of a safety and health program that complies with all of OSHA's General Safety and Health Requirements, and 2. Each project must have a competent person who conducts frequent and regular inspections of the job site.

The Inspection Procedure

An inspection can be broken down into three main sections: an opening conference, the walk around portion, and a closing conference.

Opening Conference

Compliance officers will show up on a job site unannounced. Before the inspection begins, the compliance officer will hold an opening conference. Call the Safety Department as soon as it is learned that OSHA is on site. The compliance officer may delay the inspection for a short period until safety representatives arrive. At the start of the opening conference the compliance officer should introduce him/herself and show identification. If one is not offered, ask for a business card. The inspector should state the scope of the inspection and why they are there. If they do not, ask the reason for the inspection. Is the inspection random, a referral, a complaint, etc. Also ask if the inspection will be a focused inspection or comprehensive. If it is not a focused inspection ask why it will not be. If the inspection is the result of an employee complaint, the inspection should be limited to the scope of the complaint. For example, if a complaint was received about a scaffold without guardrails, that should be all the compliance officer inspects. Be aware however, a compliance officer can cite a company for any serious violations they witness at any time during any type of inspection. Serious violations may also cause the compliance officer to expand the scope of the inspection to a comprehensive inspection of the entire project. A representative of each contractor should attend the opening conference. The compliance officer may ask questions about the project and what activities are taking place. He/she may also ask to see some paperwork such as SDSs or the 300 Log. If the compliance officer asks to see any paperwork that is not available on site the Safety Department can fax or e-mail it to their office.

Walk Around Inspection

A representative of a company should accompany the inspector during the walk around portion of the inspection. Subcontractor representatives also have the right to attend the walk around inspection. During the inspection, the compliance officer may do any of the following:

1. Inspect the work area for unsafe acts or conditions. They will especially be concentrating on fall hazards, electrical hazards, struck by and caught between type hazards.

2. Ask questions of workers. Questions should be answered truthfully but do not offer any unnecessary information.

3. Interview workers privately.

4. Inspect equipment such as extension cords, backup alarms, scaffolds, etc.

5. Take pictures or video of work activities.

The person accompanying the inspector should take detailed notes of the walk around inspection. If possible, take pictures of anything the compliance officer takes pictures of. Any hazards that are pointed out during the inspection should be corrected immediately. Do not argue with compliance officers, even if you don't agree with them. It is also not a good idea to stop work altogether while the compliance officer is on site. This will only aggravate the compliance officer and prolong the inspection. Abel employees may not be able to accompany MSHA inspectors during their inspections. Generally they are escorted by a representative of the mine owner and our work sites are only a small part of the overall inspection.

Closing Conference

A closing conference will be held at the end of the walk around inspection. The compliance officer may choose to do this separately with each contractor or together with all representatives at once. At the closing conference the inspector will notify each contractor of their rights and responsibilities after an OSHA inspection and any citations he/she is going to propose. In an MSHA closing conference, citations will be issued on the spot. OSHA citations and MSHA assessments are sent in the mail in the days or weeks following an inspection. At that point, the Safety Department can appeal the citations and have them reduced or in some cases withdrawn.

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