Worker Rights during the OSHA Inspection Process

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Here is some interesting information that every leader or manager should be aware of in the event of an OSHA inspection of your workplace.

Right to representation

The OSH Act gives employees or a workers’ representative the right to accompany an OSHA compliance officer (also referred to as a Compliance Safety and Health Officer, CSHO, or inspector) during an inspection. The labor union, if one exists, or the employees must choose the representative. Under no circumstances may the employer choose the workers’ representative.

If more than one union represents the employees, each union may choose a representative. Normally, union representatives will accompany the inspector in the areas of the facility where their members work. An OSHA inspector may conduct a comprehensive inspection of the entire workplace or a partial inspection limited to certain areas or aspects of the operation.

Right to help the compliance officer

Workers have a right to talk privately to the compliance officer on a confidential basis, whether or not a workers’ representative has been chosen. Workers are encouraged to:

  • Point out hazards;
  • Describe accidents or illnesses that resulted from those hazards;
  • Discuss past worker complaints about hazards; and
  • Inform the inspector if working conditions are not normal during the inspection.

Rights to information following the inspection

At the end of the inspection, the OSHA inspector will meet with the employer and the employee representatives in a closing conference to discuss how any hazards that may have been found will be abated. If it is not practical to hold a joint conference, the compliance officer will hold separate conferences. OSHA will provide written summaries, on request.

How to challenge the abatement period

Whether or not the employer accepts OSHA’s findings, the employee (or representative) has the right to contest the time OSHA allows for correcting a hazard. This contest must be filed in writing with the OSHA area director within 15 working days after the citation is issued. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent agency that is not part of the Department of Labor, will decide whether to change the abatement period.

 Right to information if no inspection is conducted or no citation issued

The OSHA area director evaluates complaints from employees or their representatives and decides whether they are valid. If the area director decides not to inspect the workplace, he or she will send a certified letter to the complainant explaining the decision and the reasons for it.

OSHA will inform complainants that they have the right to request further clarification of the decision from the OSHA area director. If still dissatisfied, they can appeal to the OSHA regional administrator for an informal review. Similarly, in the event that OSHA decides not to issue a citation after an inspection, employees have a right to further clarification from the area director and an informal review by the regional administrator.

Worker Rights to Protection from Retaliation

PHOTO2Right to confidentiality

Employees who make a complaint to OSHA about safety and health hazards in their workplaces have a right to confidentiality. If the employee requests that his or her name not be used, OSHA will not tell the employer who filed the complaint or requested an inspection.

Whistleblower protections

Employees have a right to seek safety and health on the job without fear of punishment. That right is spelled out in Section 11(c) of the OSH Act. The law forbids the employer from punishing or discriminating against employees for exercising such rights as:

  • Complaining to the employer, union, OSHA, or any other government agency about job safety and health hazards; and
  • Participating in OSHA inspections, conferences, hearings, or other OSHA-related activities.

I trust with your leadership, an OSHA inspection will not be necessary, but in the event one does occur, it’s important for you to be prepared and to ensure your company’s employees know what to do and how to respond during the OSHA inspection process.

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