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What Does OSHA Look for When They Show Up?

Andrii Yalanskyi / Alamy Stock Photo Andrii Yalanskyi / Alamy Stock Photo
OSHA is notorious for being at odds with contractors—especially when it comes to onsite inspections. Here are some things they'll look for, and how you can react when they come knocking.

Many become educated about OSHA’s regulations and codes after the agency has already noted violations on a job site. However, one industry thought leader wants to give companies and managers the information they need to understand OSHA before the agency shows up.

Frank Marino, a partner at Safety Check Inc., said OSHA’s priority is a term called imminent danger. He explained the agency's priorities during an educational session titled "Osha is Here! Tools and Techniques for Surviving an OSHA Inspection" at the International Roofing Expo in New Orleans.

“Any condition where there is a reasonable certainty that danger exists that can potentially kill somebody,” Marino said. “That is top on OSHA’s list.”

Marino said the term imminent danger isn’t as self-explanatory as one might assume.

“Did you know that a worker standing on the edge of the roof is not considered immediately dangerous to life,” he said. “Often time fall protection is not considered.”

Marino said listing and trenching are two examples of what OSHA would be most concerned about during an inspection.

“If you go in a 10-foot trench with no shoring, it could collapse at any second,” he said.

OSHA, which stands for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, was first created in 1970 when the U.S. Congress passed the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The agency’s mission is to “ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance,” according to OSHA’s website.

The agency has jurisdiction over more than seven million worksites across the United States, OSHA’s website stated. OSHA prioritizes inspection resources, with imminent danger situations getting top priority and severe injuries or illnesses getting the second priority. After that, worker complaints, referrals, targeted inspections, and follow up inspections receive priority in descending order, according to the agency.

“Fatalities must be reported in eight hours. Incidents resulting in one or more inpatient hospitalizations must be reported within 24 hours,” Marino said. “If you don’t report it and they find out about it, it’s $10,000.”

Marino said the OSHA act gives each employee the right to request an OSHA inspection when they feel there is an imminent danger from a workplace hazard.

“Take a wild guess, over the past two years, what the number one complaint from employees was. They are overrun with COVID complaints,” he said, adding that OSHA’s offices near Chicago set records at the end of 2021 with complaints. “They’re pulling people out of the field doing construction inspections to deal with the complaints because they can’t keep up. Most of them don’t result in any citations.”

Marino said when OSHA shows up to conduct an inspection they must present credentials.

“Train your employees, get a business card. Get that inspectors information,” he said.

Marino said getting a business card can allow follow ups. He also urged those who are dealing with an OSHA inspection to be respectful to the agency’s representatives.

“Knowing what your rights are and being combative are two different things,” he said.

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