Surprise OSHA Inspection

March 2005

This month’s question is a serious one, but some readers found a way to make light of the situation. You know that laughter is the best medicine, and I admire your sense of humor. However, I know you all take the subject of safety to heart. Most of you have a thorough safety program, and safety is a regular practice, not a trial run. Still, adhering to the lighter side, one anonymous reader answered our question with just one word: "Run.” Others used a few more words to say the same thing, but still others really took the question seriously and offered some good advice ... and some did a little of both, eloquently combining humor with lessons in safety practices. Read on. —LMP

You are working on a high-profile commercial project in your town. One day, an OSHA Inspector shows up with his camera. Trouble is, most of your guys are not OSHA-compliant. Several aren’t wearing a hard hat, one guy is actually wearing sneakers instead of steel-toed boots, and there are others on a scaffold who are pulling themselves along a wall and not setting the wheels. The OSHA Inspector is approaching you. What do you do?

Tell him the job is manned by Amish workers and it is against their religion to have graven images made (pictures taken), and make it a First Amendment issue rather than a safety issue. (P.S. KHS&S would never allow a job site to be deficient in regard to safety, so the correct answer is, make sure that "safety first” is just that.)—Frank B. Lundy III, President, KHS&S Contractors of NJ, Inc., Pleasantville, NJ

Tell everyone to go to the shop immediately and leave the job site.—Kevin Tyson, Owner, Tyson Construction Co., Andreas, PA

Stop work and send your workers home. —Lanny Cowsert, Performance Contracting, Inc., Dulles, VA

Give him your keys and run like hell!—Anonymous

I would immediately stop work and call all our people together for a meeting to quickly correct the deficiencies. All those who were not in compliance would be sent home for the day. The others I would send back to work.—Brian C. Allen, Precision Walls, Inc., Raleigh, NC

Greet him and ask him if he checked in with the project office. If not, escort him to the project’s office to properly sign in. Ask him if he had taken any pictures or observations prior to officially being invited to visit the site. Hopefully the major violators will have corrected the observed violations or have disappeared from the project. Next time, in- spect the project for violations and correct them before you get a visit!!!!—Renny Huntley, J.D.H. Construction, Caparra Hts., PR

There are a number of things that one can do to reduce the number of violations that the OSHA inspector will give to this contractor. Some of the below solutions are what contractors really do, and some are what they should actually do.
  • Depending on the time of day, send all workers on a coffee break or to lunch. If they are not working, the number of fines is greatly reduced.
  • Sneakers. Immediately send this worker off site, preferably in the opposite direction of the OSHA inspector.
  • Hard hats. Everyone should be wearing the proper PPE. Send someone, maybe the worker with sneakers on, to the store to purchase hard hats, safety glasses, hearing protection. etc.—whatever is needed to protect the workers from the hazards of the environment that they are working around.
  • Scaffold. Immediately have workers get off the scaffold. Dismantle parts of it so no one can work on it. Do not re-assemble until after the inspector has left.
All of these are temporary solutions so you do not get serious fines. The best solution is to have training and enforce OSHA standards on a daily basis, not just when an inspector comes on site. An up-to-date and active Safety Program is the only way that an inspector will be the slightest bit lenient to these violations. —Tom O’Hara, Henderson Johnson Co., Utica, NY

I would tell my crew leader/leaders to assemble the crew for a conference away from the work area and try to be accommodating to the inspector.—Nicholas Pelchar

Never let it get to that. If the guys are required to wear it, then get it done. In the real world, it happens … It always happens when the inspector turns the corner.—Tim S. Lyons, Safety Director, C.J. Coakley Co. Inc., Falls Church, VA

If the inspector has not had the pre-inspection meeting, get my supervisor to have everyone pick up all equipment that is out, put it up, and send everybody home for the day with pay. Say as little to the inspector as possible. If he asks were my personnel had gone, I would state that they went to another job. But then if he had not had the meeting, he would not know who’s workers he had seen.—Clarence Bauer, Project Manager, Dillon Construction Services, Inc., Ladson, SC

Drop your tools, moon the inspector to surprise him, then run him down, steal his camera and throw him in the foundation they’re pouring around the corner.—William Emerson, Emerson Nice Walls Inc., Williamsville, NY