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How To Prepare Your Company for OSHA Inspections

Many believe that an increase in inspections is doubtful, particularly with the Bush administration in its second term. However, recent enforcement actions confirm that EPA and OSHA are hitting regulated entities that do not avail themselves of compliance assistance programs the agencies offer. And as more regulated areas of focus arise, the possibility of an inspection may, indeed, increase. In addition, the need to increase agency revenues because of budget cutbacks will play big in increasing inspections.

Because EPA claims its objective is to reduce pollution, the Agency is spending more time in developing cooperative programs to promote voluntary compliance above and beyond federal requirements. EPA is concentrating on compliance assistance programs in cooperation with state and local authorities. EPA strongly encourages regulated facilities to attend a program or workshop applicable to the facilities' situation.

The Agency recently began cracking down on stormwater violations, and smaller companies were included on this hit list. According to EPA, this intensive enforcement follows 3 years of compliance assistance and education for the construction industry regarding national stormwater compliance requirements.

The Agency said that it is cracking down because stormwater compliance is not taken seriously by the industry. EPA warns that stormwater compliance is a top priority.

But stormwater compliance is not the only area of focus for EPA. If your facility has the potential of polluting the air or the water--watch out. In fact, the Agency has selected national program priorities by considering patterns of noncompliance and environmental and public health risks associated with regulated industry sectors. The petroleum refinery sector is a good example of an enforcement target for compliance with the Clean Air Act (CAA).
Getting Ready ...
Although you can't avoid the "knock at the door," you can avoid being caught in the enforcement trap by making sure you are prepared for inspections and following up on Agency actions.
First, you must prepare your facility and your frontline personnel ahead of time to effectively:
Deal with government agencies
Handle the inspection process
Respond to violation notices
It is critical that you do everything possible to prepare for and be responsive during all stages of the inspection process. Your actions will largely determine whether EPA, OSHA, or your state agency will pursue an enforcement action.
Agency Help--For Better or Worse?
Many state agencies offer pre inspection assistance in the form of on-site technical visits, telephone assistance, checklists and forms, or a combination. Whether you avail yourself of these no-cost opportunities depends on the level of trust and confidence you have in your particular state agency--and your own "housekeeping."
Some consultants caution that although you can't be prosecuted for violations found during these visits, you may be put on the short list for future inspections. Agency help? It's your call.
Checklist for Handling Agency Inspections
Even facilities with great relationships with agencies get inspected. Most facilities regularly treat Agency inspections too casually. In most situations, it is better to accommodate inspections so as to minimize confrontations, memorialize lists of violations, and document prompt and continued compliance.

Agency inspectors will use every lawful means to prosecute violators. Businesses and landowners should be aware of their rights and duties regarding inspections. It makes sense to be prepared to protect yourself against unfair or illegal searches. Here are some practical tips for handling Agency inspections in a businesslike way.
Designate a manager and backup to handle inspections. Instruct the receptionist to notify this person of the arrival of any inspection personnel.
Request the inspector's credentials and make a copy of them. Verify this person's identity by checking with the nearest regional office if you have any doubts.
If any complaint has sparked the investigation, ask the compliance officer to show you a copy of the complaint.
Watch out for any out-of-the-ordinary, non routine inspection, especially by a team of Agency personnel.
Ask for the purpose of the inspection and the applicable standard. Determine what parts of the facility the inspectors seek access to. Ask if the inspection will include documents.
Notify your attorney.
Decide whether to invoke a right to insist on a search warrant.
Record the names of all persons conducting or attending the inspection.
Discourage tape recordings.
Conduct any monitoring or take any samples at the same time the inspectors do and label them. Also take duplicate photographs or arrange, in writing, for duplicates to be provided from photos taken by the inspectors.
Restrict the inspection to the stated purposes and legally required reports and files.
Use the most direct route to the areas the inspector wants to see, avoiding other parts of your facility whenever possible.
Be sure your management representatives are instructed to be cooperative but not to volunteer information.
Be sure your management representatives take notes covering everything that is said during the inspection.
Inquire if any violations or deficiencies have been found by the inspector.
Ask the compliance officer to suggest ways to correct problems that he or she has cited.
Request a copy of the inspection form and the final report when prepared.
Prepare your own inspection report. Acknowledge findings of the inspector and confirm promised operation changes in writing, including a list of all cited violations and corrective action required.
Immediately correct violations cited by the inspector when it is possible to do so on the spot.
Make a special note of which violations have been corrected during the inspection.
Watch for receipt of violation notices, abatement orders, and other citations that may result from the inspection.
Before you receive these citations, write to the Agency to list the violations you have already corrected.
Act on the inspection results with proper advice and supervision.
Check your final resolution of any citations with your supervisor and attorney.
Request a closing conference if the compliance officer does not offer one.
Discuss any violations during this meeting and ask for the compliance officer's input concerning corrective action.
Ask the compliance officer to explain your rights and responsibilities in connection with any citations.
Ask the compliance officer to fully answer all of your questions concerning the inspection, violations, citations, or any other related matters.
Ask the inspector for copies of any photographs or monitoring data collected during the inspection.
Take immediate action to correct violations in accordance with the requirements of the regulations.
If you decide to appeal an OSHA citation, make sure you file within 15 days of receipt, requesting an informal conference with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. It's in your best interest to have one of these informal meetings because what's discussed in these meetings cannot be used in court, so you can air your protests and get assistance.
If you want to seek a settlement concerning a citation that you think is unreasonable, contact the area director at your regional office to discuss the violation. Try to work out a settlement agreement to resolve the dispute and eliminate the hazard.
Every facility can expect inspections. But they can be either the beginning or the end of the enforcement process. The handling of the inspection will largely determine whether EPA, OSHA, or a state agency will decide to pursue an enforcement action. It is critical that you do everything possible to prepare for and be responsive during all stages of the process.

To be totally prepared, its time to update your safety manual at:

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