[Focus on Safety] Lessons Learned from an OSHA Audit

Features - General Safety

What one pest control company’s experience can teach other PCOs.

October 23, 2013
Dan Austin

Editor’s note: The following article is based on a presentation titled “Lessons Learned from an OSHA Safety Audit,” given by Rick Bell, Vice President of Government Affairs and Industry Stewardship at Arrow Exterminators, Atlanta, at NPMA PestWorld ’12, in Boston.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has discovered the pest management industry. As a result, guidelines regarding OSHA are a major component of the foundation for Professional Pest Management Alliance’s QualityPro certification program.

OSHA does not need an incident or complaint to trigger an inspection. An inspector could show up at your door at any time. It may never happen, but then again, it may happen. You should be as prepared for an OSHA inspection as you would for any other business emergency.

Here are suggestions for how to prepare for and participate in an OSHA inspection.

On the Radar.
In the past several years, more pest management companies nationally have been visited by OSHA inspectors. There were nearly 100 inspections in the pest management industry nationally between August 2007 and August 2012, according to

OSHA data reported on the U.S. Department of Labor website. OSHA inspectors do not need an appointment and can show up anytime during normal business hours. “It’s true. They could walk into your office at any time,” said Rick Bell, vice president of Government Affairs and Industry Stewardship at Arrow Exterminators, Atlanta. “One day, an inspector just walked in the door at our Columbus, Ga., office. We hadn’t had an incident and there was no complaint. He just walked in the door.”

Types of Inspections.
There are three types of inspections: routine (aka programmed); nuisance; and catastrophe.

An inspector needs no reason to conduct a routine inspection. “An inspector has a list of items and they go down the checklist,” said Bell. “During a routine inspection they could ask for anything.”

A nuisance inspection is prompted by a complaint, which could come from any source. Employee safety complaints are common and could be initiated by an existing or disgruntled former employee, which happens fairly frequently.

The last is a catastrophe inspection, which is prompted by a company reporting the hospitalization of three or more employees, a serious injury or a fatality. In any of these circumstances filing a report is mandatory.

Preparing for an Inspection.
“You need to plan what you’re going to do and then execute your plan,” said Bell. “You’re going to be flustered when an inspector walks into your office. You can’t be overprepared.”

Have all of the documentation that an OSHA inspector may request prepared, organized and readily available at all times, at all locations. You do not want to be searching a filing cabinet for the right form with the inspector waiting. Having ready access to documentation demonstrates to the inspector that you are prepared, which could be to your advantage.

Documents to Prepare. “An inspector will look for low-hanging fruit,” said Bell. “They’ll start there and, if you’re flustered and you don’t have the records, the snowball starts. It’ll just get worse.” Items an inspector is likely to request include:

  • Five years of OSHA 300 and 300A logs (likely one of the first items requested)
  • The state and federal employment regulations poster
  • Panel of physicians
  • Verifiable training records

Up-to-date training could easily be overlooked. “You change staff, sometimes you change managers, you change service techs, and you forget that maybe this person hasn’t been through an area of training,” said Bell. “It’s extremely important to circle back every year.” You also need to be aware of who is qualified to conduct training.

Annual employee training must be well documented, including: hazard communications; personal protective equipment (PPE); spill control; respirator fit testing; and fall arrest training.

The easiest way to verify training is to have employees sign-in, but this may not be enough. Consider including on the sign-in sheets the topics covered during the training. File all sign-in sheets, agendas and other materials related to training sessions. Consider organizing your files by the type of training — fall arrest, respiratory equipment fit testing and others.

Employees must be able to properly demonstrate that they understand the hazards of their job. It is a good idea to tell employees that they may be called on, at any time, to demonstrate their understanding of the information being covered, which an inspector has the right to request. Consider adding quizzes and tests to help identify areas in which additional training may be necessary.

Planning for the Unthinkable — An Inspection.
Inspections are serious and should be treated as such. Planning and practice are the keys to surviving an OSHA inspection. Base your plan on what may happen and information that may be requested during an inspection. The plan should cover everything from the moment an inspector walks into your office to the time they drive away.

If you are not on site when an inspector arrives, inform your staff to contact you immediately. “You should make every effort to return to your office, unless you’re out of town,” added Bell. “There’s absolutely no reason to not return to the office and take ownership of the situation.”

If you are out of town and cannot meet with the inspector, assign a management back up, someone that can remain calm and focused during an inspection. Work closely with your alternate. They should have the same level of understanding as you, and access to all necessary records, in your absence.

Your staff should be professional and courteous, and make the inspector comfortable in the front waiting room. “Keep them out front,” said Bell. “You don’t want the inspector wandering around your office, chemical storage area, loading dock or anywhere else without being accompanied by you.”

Your staff should explain that this is the company policy, which means you need a policy regarding contacting you, the owner, your alternate or your attorney if they will be able to answer the inspector’s questions. Keep in mind that contacting your attorney may raise a red flag with the inspector, so that may not be the best choice. Be sure to make your phone calls in private, where you cannot be overheard. It is your right to have the inspector wait until the designated person arrives.

Everyone Has Rights

“Everyone has rights during an OSHA inspection,” explained Bell. “You have rights. Your employees have rights. And OSHA has rights.”

Employee Rights. Non-management employees have the right to a private, one-on-one interview with the inspector. They can request to have their manager, or you, present. They have the right to end an interview at any time, or to refuse it altogether. Employees have no duty to sign a statement, or to be recorded or photographed.

Employer Rights. As the business owner, you have the right to limit the inspection to the complaint or accident. You have the right to: accompany the inspector throughout the inspection; attend non-private employee interviews and management interviews; and not produce documents or disclose information not directly related to the inspection. You can use a camera or video camera, but you are under no obligation to be photographed or videotaped. Surprisingly, you also have the right to end an inspection if you deem it “disruptive,” or request a search warrant, but either could make a bad situation worse.

OSHA Rights. OSHA inspectors have the right to conduct an inspection with your consent or with a search warrant. They can inspect documents required by law. OSHA has the right to truthful responses.

When you meet the inspector, ask for their credentials, and make a copy for your records. Ask why they are there. “Write down everything they say,” said Bell. “If they talk too fast, ask them to slow down. You want to record all of the information just like you’re mechanically recording it. You need to have it all. You can’t rewind an inspection.” Writing everything down also sets the tone and lets the inspector know you are a professional and take the inspection seriously.

“Always remain calm and collected during an inspection, which is tougher to do in some occasions than others. And think before you speak,” said Bell. “Inspectors know the questions that are going to rattle you and they are going to ask them.”

Although adrenaline may put you into a fight or flight mode, do not try to hurry through an inspection. This is the time to practice your listening skills and formulate thoughtful, accurate answers, rather than anticipating what the inspector may be asking. Answer questions succinctly and honestly. Only show them what they ask for and nothing more. It they ask a “yes or no question,” answer “yes” or “no,” and stop talking. Nothing is off the record.

“If the inspector requests documents to remove from the building, tell them you will produce the requested information, but that company policy requires a written request so there’s no confusion,” said Bell. Again, you must create a company policy that addresses this.

An inspector can go anywhere and ask for any information that relates to the scope of the inspection. If they ask for a tour of your facility, ask exactly what they would like to see. Take them to that area using the most direct route possible, as they can issue citations for any hazard in plain view. An OSHA inspector is not entitled to a full tour unless they are conducting a routine inspection. “If requested, politely advise them that the company policy does not allow for general tours, but that you’d be happy to show them the areas necessary for the inspection,” added Bell. Escort them at all times.

During an injury inspection, questions must be limited to the specific event, and only the employee and witnesses involved. In this case, be prepared to produce the related training records. The inspector will want to interview the injured employee and witnesses, which is their right. If these individuals are not available, the inspector will go to their home or conduct phone interviews.

If it is a complaint-related inspection, the inspector will not provide you with a copy of the complaint, which is confidential. Write down the basis of the complaint precisely. You are not allowed to ask or make efforts to find out who filed the complaint, as employees are protected under the law.

“If the inspector asks to see information that isn’t related to the complaint, don’t be afraid to gently push back. They don’t have a mandate to come in and search everything,” Bell said. “They’ve got to be specific.”

“An inspector can take photos or videos throughout the inspection. Take the same pictures from the same angle,” said Bell. “You don’t want to get into a ‘he said, she said’ situation with OSHA. You want to have everything they have.”

Closing Report.
The closing report is your opportunity to meet with the inspector after the inspection to review their findings and any violations, and it provides you with the opportunity to ask questions or seek additional information. The inspector should also let you know when you can expect their final, written report. Hopefully they will not request a follow-up visit. An exception would be if you are issued a citation. “In this case, you want a follow-up. It lets them know you take the citation very seriously and that you will do what’s necessary to rectify the problem,” said Bell.

If you receive a citation and penalty, ask for a reduction. In the past five years, penalties assessed in the pest control industry ranged from $84,000 to $134,000; roughly 40 percent of the penalties were reduced, according to OSHA data.

The Inspection is (Finally) Over. Escort the inspector to the front door after the inspection and follow them outside. Stand in front of your office and watch the inspector drive away to ensure they leave the property and do not circle around to the back of the building, or anywhere else on your property. Feel free to wave goodbye as they drive away, but refrain from offering any other hand gestures.

Final Thoughts.
OSHA inspections are very serious and should be taken as such. Have a plan in place, from training and documentation, to protocol during an inspection. OSHA has discovered the pest management industry and inspections will likely increase. Be prepared and practice, practice, practice. And remember, it’s not personal, so don’t take it that way.


The author is PCT contributing writer and can be contacted at daustin@giemedia.com.

OSHA as a Resource
OSHA offers a wide selection of training courses and educational programs to help broaden worker and employer knowledge on the recognition, avoidance, and prevention of safety and health hazards in their workplaces. Visit www.osha.org and click on the “training” tab for a page with references, training courses, educational programs, and training materials and resources.