The 5 Things You Should Never Say to an OSHA Inspector

The way you handle an OSHA inspection can have as much impact on the outcome as the actual health and safety condition of your lab. More precisely, the things your front line employees do and say when they cross paths with the OSHA inspector can have unexpected and disastrous liability consequences. This is especially true when the inspector points out a potential problem. Here are five statements you never want your staffers to utter to an OSHA inspector.

1. "I warned management about that problem"
Passing the buck to the higher-ups is a natural first instinct, especially if employees actually did try to sound the warning bells. But in the OSHA realm, violations are a lot worse when they are "willful." And violations are considered willful when you are aware of them but don’t take steps to fix them. So if employees let OSHA inspectors know that management was warned, it significantly increases your lab’s liability risks.

2. "We have a procedure to prevent the problem but nobody ever follows it"
A safety procedure that’s not enforced can be just as damning as not having a policy at all because it suggests that your safety program is a charade that isn’t taken seriously. And that makes your lab more likely to receive a willful citation.

3. "We tried to fix the problem but it didn’t work"
To an OSHA inspector’s highly attuned ears, the message of this statement is that you recognized that there was a safety problem and took it seriously enough to try and correct it. But you failed to determine whether that measure was effective. It’s a serious compliance issue.

4. "We just can’t afford to fix the problem"
OSHA rules tend to be prescriptive but not specific. They list the hazards you need to control but do not specify the exact methods how. They also give you leeway to consider costs in deciding on measures as long as you reasonably determine that less expensive controls will work just as well. But what you cannot do is ignore a problem on the basis of costs.

5. "That’s the way all the labs do it"
Industry standards may be relevant in deciding how to handle particular hazards. But following an industry standard in lieu of an OSHA requirement is never an option. Never. Suggesting that it is the most surefire way to get under the skin of an OSHA inspector.


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