Do’s and Don’ts When the OSHA Inspector Comes to Call
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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First, don’t panic. Ideally, you’ve prepared for the remote possibility that someday, you may receive a visit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. You have protocols in place, necessary records and documentation readily available as well as a designated OSHA safety officer/compliance officer.
Do introduce yourself to the inspector, welcome them, ask what the purpose is, convey concern, and take full responsibility for the practice’s OSHA program. Explain that the practice’s OSHA safety officer will escort the inspector through the practice. Inform them that you are with patients but, if necessary, you will be available.
Do request politely to see the inspector’s identification. Peculiar as it is, there have been cases in which salespeople attempting to sell lighting, alarms, or other equipment have actually posed as OSHA inspectors. So trust but verify, confirm that the person really is an OSHA inspector.
While the practice is within its rights to refuse to let the OSHA inspector in, most experts do not recommend it. Demanding a warrant may get you another 24 hours, but it will likely buy you more problems as well. Practices can ask the inspector to schedule an appointment. However, they are not required to do so and most likely they will want to complete the inspection at that time.
Do ask the inspector specifically what is the purpose of the visit and which records they will want to examine. You may be able to limit the inspection to only those areas related to the complaint. If the inspector has a written complaint, ask to see it and copy it for your records.
Do insist that your staff compliance officer stay with the visitor at all times. You really don’t want an OSHA inspector wandering around your practice unsupervised.
Don’t be too friendly. Inspectors are there to conduct government business. They won’t appreciate your efforts to socialize and that includes any offers of food or beverages.
Don’t get nasty. Don’t trivialize the visit. Don’t play the superiority card – I’m a busy doctor and I don’t have time for this. That will get you nowhere.
Don’t speak unless you are spoken to. The inspector has the right to interview staff. However, employees should be advised that they are not to engage in conversation with the inspector unless they are asked a question directly. Staff should be instructed to answer the specific question honestly and stop talking. Keep answers simple, truthful, and stick to the facts.
Don't admit to any violations. Don't agree with the inspector that a hazard or violation exists.
Don't argue with the compliance officer or become defensive. You can briefly explain why you don't agree but don’t push the issue.
Do take advantage of the closing conference. During the conference, the inspector will tell you what areas of the practice are not in compliance and what the practice will be cited for. The inspector will explain your rights for appeal. At this time, if the inspector finds a violation that you believe is incorrect, you can politely explain extenuating circumstances for the violation, and possibly get it removed. Following the visit, the practice will receive a written report within approximately two weeks.
Do appeal the findings. Most regulatory experts urge practices in virtually every case to appeal the findings because that can significantly reduce the fines and penalties assessed, some of which can be as high as $70,000.
Do check out the American Dental Association’s Regulatory Compliance Manual on CD-ROM. This is a goldmine of information on OSHA and CDC regulations.
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