The thought of an OSHA audit is enough to make even the safest and most diligent companies uncomfortable. That's because they pose a significant financial, legal, and reputational risk for companies. With so much on the line and the number of things that can go wrong, it's understandable why most companies would rather not think about it.
However, like most things in life, the most prepared often have the best outcomes. This article will lay out a practical strategy companies can use to prepare for an OSHA audit so that when that inspector comes knocking, they're ready.
The risks of an OSHA audit
So, what are the risks for companies of an OSHA audit, and why is getting prepared so important? Here is a list of the potential fallout of an OSHA inspection not going your way:
Fines and Penalties: If an OSHA inspector identifies violations during an audit, the company may be subject to fines and penalties. The fines can vary depending on the severity of the violation and the company's compliance history. However, the financial impact of penalties can be significant, especially for small businesses.
Legal Action: If an OSHA inspector identifies serious violations that pose an imminent danger to employees, the company may be subject to legal action. OSHA can issue a citation and require the company to take corrective action. In some cases, the company may be subject to a lawsuit from injured employees or their families.
Business Disruption: An OSHA audit can disrupt business operations, especially if the audit requires the company to shut down parts of the facility or implement new safety measures. This disruption can lead to lost productivity, missed deadlines, and lost revenue.
Reputational Damage: A failed OSHA audit can damage the company's reputation and erode customer trust. Negative publicity can harm the company's brand and make it harder to attract and retain customers.
The steps to prepare for an OSHA audit
An OSHA audit can pose significant risks for companies, including financial, legal, and reputational damage. For those reasons, preparation is crucial to limit exposure. What can your company start doing today to prepare for your next announced or unannounced visit from OSHA?
Conduct a self-audit
Before deciding how to improve, you need to understand where you are; that's why performing a self-audit is critical when preparing for an OSHA audit. This audit will help identify potential hazards and areas of non-compliance in the workplace. First, companies should develop a checklist of all the OSHA standards and regulations relevant to their industry. The checklist should be comprehensive and cover all aspects of the workplace, including physical, chemical, and ergonomic hazards.
After developing the checklist, it's time to conduct the self-audit. During the process, companies should walk through the workplace, checking for any hazards that may be present. This includes inspecting machinery and equipment, examining workstations, and reviewing all relevant documentation, such as safety data sheets and training records.
If the self-audit identifies any hazards, companies should take immediate action to address them. This could include repairing or replacing faulty equipment, reorganizing workstations to reduce ergonomic risks, or updating training programs to ensure that employees are aware of potential hazards.
Another essential aspect of preparing for an OSHA audit is training. OSHA requires that all employees, including new hires, receive training on relevant safety and health topics such as hazard communication, personal protective equipment (PPE), and emergency response procedures.
To maintain compliance with these requirements, companies must develop comprehensive training programs that cover all OSHA-required topics and address the specific hazards and risks present in the workplace. In addition, companies should keep detailed records of all training sessions and provide regular refresher training to ensure employees are up-to-date on the latest safety and health practices.
Maintain accurate records
Accurate record-keeping is another essential part of preparing for an OSHA audit. Employers are required to maintain records of workplace injuries and illnesses, as well as training and inspection records.
Employers should keep these records up-to-date and ensure that they are easily accessible to OSHA inspectors. This process may involve implementing an electronic record-keeping system or organizing paper records in a way that is easy to access and understand.
Best practices for record-keeping include keeping detailed records of workplace injuries and illnesses, documenting training sessions, and maintaining inspection records. Employers should also ensure that their records are accurate, complete, and updated regularly.
Keep up-to-date with OSHA regulations
Keeping up-to-date with OSHA regulations is critical to ensuring compliance with safety and health standards. OSHA regulations are updated regularly, and employers must stay informed about these changes. Subscribing to OSHA newsletters and alerts, attending training sessions, and consulting with industry organizations is a great way to do that.
Employers should also take steps to ensure compliance with new or updated regulations as soon as possible. For example, implementing new policies or procedures, providing additional training to employees, or upgrading equipment to meet new safety and health standards.
Responding to an OSHA audit
Companies need to teach leadership and employees how to conduct themselves if an OSHA audit does occur. For example, it's important to respond appropriately to the inspector's requests and questions. Managers and supervisors should remain calm and cooperative throughout the inspection process and provide the inspector with all requested records and information.
Employers should designate a point person to coordinate with the OSHA inspector and keep track of the inspection process. This person should be familiar with the company's safety and health programs and policies and able to answer the inspector's questions and provide any requested records or information.
During the inspection, employers should take notes and document the inspector's findings and requests. For example, if an inspector takes a picture of something, so should the company. This process can help the company address any issues identified during the inspection and ensure compliance with OSHA regulations as well as serve as evidence in case of a trial.
Being prepared is critical for any company that wants to avoid the potential negative repercussions of an OSHA audit. Thankfully, by following the steps outlined above, companies will be in a much better position to respond appropriately if it does happen. However, with so much on the line, many companies want to remove as much risk as possible and turn to EHS software for help.
Serenity can help
EHS software can help companies be better prepared for an OSHA audit, but finding an EHS software solution that checks all the boxes is easier said than done. Serenity can help.
The software solutions from Serenity provide tools to conduct self-audits and manage compliance, training, incidents, record-keeping, and reporting. As a result, Serenity is helping companies of all sizes and in various industries, such as Global MFG, Telco, Healthcare, Energy, Public, and Retail, streamline their EHS processes, reduce the risk of non-compliance, and improve workplace safety and health.
The software is natively built on ServiceNow, enabling companies to integrate operational workflows into their business on a trusted platform. Click here to learn how Serenity EHS can help you prepare for your next OSHA inspection and create a safer, more compliant workplace.