March 21, 2024

Best Practices: OSHA Complaints/Inspections

Representatives of the U.S Occupational, Safety and Health Association (OSHA) as well as Cal/OSHA and Arizona’s ADOSH are authorized to inspect the workplace whenever they have reason to believe an employee may be in danger due to employment hazards.  Complaints of workplace hazards can manifest in several ways, but employee complaints are the most common. Below are a few key points when it comes to understanding employee-initiated OSHA complaints and how to handle inspection visits.

Employee Initiated Complaints

Employees have the right to submit complaints if they encounter safety or health hazards in the workplace. These complaints often involve ongoing issues that affect employee well-being. Common safety and health hazards include:

  • Unsafe Working Conditions: Employees can report hazardous conditions such as faulty equipment, inadequate safety measures, or lack of proper training.
  • Health Risks: Complaints related to exposure to harmful substances, poor ventilation, or inadequate personal protective equipment fall under this category.
  • Physical Hazards: These include risks like slippery floors, electrical hazards, or unsafe machinery.
  • Ergonomic Concerns: Employees can complain about uncomfortable workstations, repetitive strain injuries, or improper lifting techniques.

Employees who believe they have faced retaliation from their employer for raising safety or health concerns can also file complaints with OSHA. Retaliation may take various forms, such as:

  • Adverse Employment Action: If an employer takes adverse actions (such as termination, demotion, or reduced hours) against an employee for reporting hazards, it constitutes retaliation.
  • Intimidation: Threats, harassment, or creating a hostile work environment due to safety complaints are unacceptable.
  • Reduced Benefits or Pay: Retaliatory measures may include reducing benefits, pay, or denying promotions.

Handling Inspection Visits

OSHA inspectors often visit workplaces unannounced, typically during regular hours. Employers are advised to establish inspection procedures due to the unpredictable nature of these types of visits. Here are a few key steps to effectively interact with inspection officers:

  1. Upon arrival, instruct all employees to direct the inspector to a designated representative.
  2. Inform the inspector to wait for the company’s designated representative, typically the safety coordinator or plant manager. All managers should be notified of the inspector’s presence.
  3. If the designated representative is unavailable within 30 to 60 minutes, inform the inspector. Respectfully suggest rescheduling the inspection.
  4. If the representative is available, allow the inspector to conduct the opening conference. An employee representative may also attend.
  5. During the opening conference, ask the reason for the inspection and attempt to limit its scope.
  6. The inspector will initiate the investigation after the opening conference.
  7. The designated representative should accompany the inspector throughout the inspection, except when the inspector wishes to speak to employees privately.
  8. Employees should always answer inspection-related questions courteously and directly.
  9. The inspector may take samples and photographs; with trade secrets subject to confidentiality provisions.
  10. Keep a record of the inspection’s scope, interactions, and observations.
  11. Request a closing conference after the inspection. Multiple company representatives should attend.
  12. Prepare a report of the inspection marked “For Legal Review” and send it only to legal counsel for attorney-client privilege. Keep copies confidential.

What Does It All Mean?

Employers should strive to take employee complaints seriously and address safety and health concerns promptly. At every opportunity encourage open communication, provide proper training, and create a safe work environment to prevent hazards and potential retaliation.

Remember, a proactive approach to safety benefits both employees and the organization.