The OSHA Inspection Process: What You Need to Know

Build Your Business

Author: Linda Light | December 12, 2023

The OSHA inspection process is daunting for many roofing business owners. Even if you're confident that your company is following all of the proper safety protocols, an inspection can take you by surprise.

Roofers on a roof
Part of the OSHA inspection process is a walk-through of the worksite to observe its physical condition.

The first step in surviving an audit is to plan what you will do in the event that one happens, including who needs to be involved and what the process is.

Why OSHA Inspections Can Occur With No Warning

OSHA rarely gives advance notice of an inspection. In fact, it is a crime for an OSHA employee to give unauthorized advance notice of an inspection, so in that respect, nearly all inspections are a "surprise."

But, OSHA will give employers advance notice of inspection under these four conditions:

  • In cases of apparent imminent danger, to try to get management to fix the condition immediately.
  • When inspection must be after regular business hours or when special preparations are necessary.
  • If management and worker representatives are not likely to be onsite unless they have advance notice.
  • In other circumstances where the OSHA Area Director thinks a more complete inspection would result.

The Three Steps in the OSHA Inspection Process

While the timing may be a surprise, the structure of an OSHA inspection should be consistent. It typically includes three main steps.

Step 1: Opening Conference

This is a forum where the OSHA compliance officer will explain why the inspection is taking place, the scope of the investigation and whether it is a comprehensive or partial inspection.

The inspector should explain items are scheduled for review. They may request that you provide:

  • All written programs in use.
  • All training records.
  • Five years' worth of OSHA 300 logs (injury and illness reports).

This is also your time to make sure you know the reason for the inspection. Is it for imminent danger (such as unprotected fall hazards), a work-related fatality or a complaint? Is it a targeted or special emphasis inspection?

Step 2: Walk-Through

Next, the inspector will walk through the worksite to observe its physical condition and the processes taking place. The OSHA inspector will check the specific safety and/or health hazards that prompted the visit; however, they may decide to check for other hazards or expand the inspection to cover the entire worksite, if conditions warrant it.

The walk-through should include an employer and employee representative from your company.

The inspector:

  • May use equipment to measure noise, dust, fumes or other hazardous exposures.
  • May ask to interview employees about the safety measures involved in the work they do. If the Compliance Officer requests to speak to non-management personnel, you may explain to your employees that it's their right to either speak with the compliance officer in private, may request you as their employer to be there during the interview or may choose not to speak to the compliance officer at all.
  • Should bring apparent violations to your attention at the time they are documented.
  • May review the injury and illness reports for your company.

If the people accompanying the inspector do not understand what is being done, they are allowed to ask. In addition, always take good notes; the information gathered during the inspection may be used to support citations.

Step 3: Closing Conference

This is when your OSHA inspector discusses their findings with you, including any unsafe conditions observed, apparent violations and ways to correct the hazards. Inspectors should also provide you with a summarized, high-level view of their findings.

In order to get a valid citation, OSHA must show both the violation and feasibility of abatement. OSHA must complete its inspection and issue formal citations, if any, within six months of the closing of an inspection. The opening conference, walk-through and closing conference may take a few hours or several days depending on the number of hazards, workplace size and other factors.

OSHA Inspection Tips

The most important way to prepare for OSHA visits is to develop and implement a systematic approach to effectively manage overall safety and health within your organization. Don't wait for an inspection to start and test your program and provide training to your supervisors and management personnel on what to do if an OSHA Compliance Officer shows up at your workplace. Train all employees on your policies and keep written training records.

If an inspector does show up to your jobsite, here are a few tips to help address an OSHA inspection:

  • If available, consult with your legal counsel prior to authorizing a compliance officer to inspect your jobsite.
  • Ask for the OSHA inspector's identification and make a copy of it. This ensures you are dealing with a legitimate government official versus a potential party looking to potentially scam or defraud your company.
  • You are entitled to ask the reason for the inspection (imminent danger, fatality, complaint, targeted, special emphasis).
  • Secure a neat, clean, quiet location for meetings, preferably a conference room at the front of the building if you have one.
  • If you have a safety professional on staff, ask the Compliance Officer to wait for them to arrive at the jobsite or make them available to participate by phone. If you do not have a safety professional available, try to have an experienced supervisor assist as the primary point of contact for your organization.
  • Identify compliance officers and have senior management present.
  • Always escort the OSHA inspector throughout the entire inspection.
  • Cooperation does not mean that you must volunteer information which might be used against you later.
  • Make sure you take the same steps as the OSHA inspector. Take the same photos, and note who is being interviewed. Go back and debrief and take your own notes from employees who were interviewed by the Compliance Officer.
  • Take notes so you can remember everything accurately. An inspection might be complex or chaotic.
  • If you receive a citation and fines, consider your appeal rights to petition for modification of abatement, have an informal conference or submit a written notice of contest.