OSHA consultation can help an organization improve its safety and health performance. These services are available to businesses in all industries and are designed to help small and mid-sized employers identify hazards and establish site-specific safety and health programs to help reduce injuries and illnesses.
Before you begin an OSHA consultation, there are a few things to know to get the most out of the service and use the experience to improve worker safety and health. Keeping these four elements in mind will help ensure a smooth and successful OSHA consultation.
1. Get the Facts
Organizations may shudder at the phrase “OSHA consultation,” thinking it will put them under a microscope where they will be issued citations for any hazards identified. This is one of the many myths and misconceptions about the role of OSHA consultation and the authority that OSHA consultants have.
While some assume that an OSHA consultation increases the risk of inspection, the goal of a consultation is to improve an employer’s compliance with OSHA regulations, thereby helping reduce the chance for inspection and citations.
OSHA consultation is separate from enforcement and is conducted by state employees who cannot issue citations. Furthermore, OSHA part 1908.7(a)(3) requires that consultation visits remain 100% confidential from enforcement and protect the identity of the employer involved.
In addition, an organization engaged in a consultation is deferred from general or programmed OSHA enforcement inspections for any area of the facility included in the scope of the consultation visit. An employer can also modify or stop a consultation at any point. However, if the employer terminates the consultation before its completion, it must still correct any imminent danger or serious hazards identified up to that point.
2. Set the Scope
It’s important to remember that the employer establishes the parameters of an OSHA consultation. An inspection can be as broad as an entire facility or as narrow as one process, depending on the issues you want to address. An employer may request a full-service visit to assess all working conditions, or a limited-service visit dedicated to a specific department or task.
To determine the scope, an organization can use first-hand knowledge of workplace conditions as well as its OSHA 300 log, 300A summaries and 301 injury and illness forms. The consultant will also request these documents, as well as your safety and health training records and applicable industrial hygiene surveys. These resources can provide insight on the hazards workers face so that they can be properly mitigated.
3. Understand the Process
Once the scope is set, an organization must understand the next steps so it can prepare for the consultation and subsequent hazard mitigation.
The consultation process consists of five steps:
- Opening conference: During the opening conference, the consultant reviews roles, employer responsibilities and obligations, as well as the relationship between on-site consultation and enforcement.
- Facility walkthrough: Under the employer’s direction and control, the consultant examines workplace conditions and hazard controls. The consultant reports observed hazards to the employer and employee representatives, and suggests potential solutions for achieving OSHA compliance.
- Closing conference: The consultant discusses any compliance deficiencies and applicable OSHA standards, and works with the employer to determine due dates for correcting the identified hazards.
- Written report: Within 20 days of the site visit, the consultant will issue a written report that identifies compliance deficiencies observed, explains the risks those hazards pose to workers, references applicable OSHA standards and outlines a corrective action plan. The report will include a list of hazards that the employer must post "in a prominent place where it is readily observable by all employees" for no less than three working days or until all identified hazards are corrected. Failure to do so results in the employer losing visit-in-progress status.
- Hazard correction: Based on the written report, the employer advises employees of hazard correction actions, corrects hazards and verifies their correction to the assigned consultant in writing or through a follow-up visit.
4. Address Hazards and Follow Up
When the consultation ends, the real work begins. The organization must take the information the consultant has provided and use it to improve worker safety and health. This means addressing each hazard identified by the established due date.
Throughout the hazard mitigation process, the consultant will stay in contact with the employer to monitor progress. Due dates may be extended based on reasonable movement toward completion and documentation explaining the reason for the delay.
Once hazards are addressed, employers can either submit the Employer Report of Action Taken form attached to the consultant’s report, or the consultant may conduct a follow-up or training-and-assistance visit. During this visit, the consultant will verify that the employer has mitigated the hazards noted in the initial consultation.
After the consultant confirms that the employer has abated the hazards, they will close each identified hazard in the OSHA database, thereby ending the employer’s visit-in-progress status. Although the organization is now removed from inspection deferral status, it can have peace-of-mind knowing that it has taken proactive steps to improve its OSHA compliance.
Read the complete version of “OSHA Consultation: How to Get Started” originally published in the June 2019 issue of Professional Safety. Want to receive a monthly subscription to Professional Safety, ASSP’s top-ranked benefit? Become an ASSP member
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