The Nine Rules of Cal/OSHA Inspections

by walterlaw Cal/OSHA Issues Uncategorized Cal/OSHA Appeals Board OSHA Enforcement Policies OSHA News FAQ

It’s no surprise, and we are not offended, that we have never been invited to sit in on any of Cal/OSHA’s training sessions. But over the combined four decades that we have been reviewing inspection files and representing employers at hearings we have been able to identify some of the main points that inspectors must be taking away from their classes on how to perform inspections, to conduct interviews and to write citations.

Here are the core lessons which we see followed in file after file:  

1.     Consider your inspections to be the equivalent of drive-by shootings. You have lots of work back at the office, so investigate only as long as it takes to   find justification for a citation. Don’t bother with corroboration or learning what actually happened.

2.    Use shortcuts whenever possible. For example, when an employee is called a foremen, don’t bother looking into what his job duties really are. Just go with it and use anything he says, however implausible, as an admission by the employer.

3.    Whenever possible ask yes or no questions. And don’t waste time on follow up questions that may challenge your assumptions.

4.    Never discuss your thoughts candidly with the employer until after the citation has been issued. They will only seek to confuse you with information you forgot to ask for.

5.    Always look for ways to take employers’s statements out of context. They’re all liars anyway.

6.    When deciding which regulations to cite, don’t waste time considering their actual wording. Instead, interpret them as you think the Standards Board would have written them if they had known what you know.  

7.     Don’t treat an employer’s response to a 1BY letter (Notice of Intent to Issue Citation) as an opportunity to test your conclusions. Instead, use it to justify your conclusions. Better yet, don’t waste time reading it at all. You know what you want to do.

8.    In all accident cases include one or more citations for deficiencies in the employer’s Illness and Injury Prevention Program (IIPP). Remember, accidents don’t happen unless the employer has failed to identify a hazard or to train their employees effectively. At the very least, these can be used later as bargaining chips during settlement talks.

9.    Use abatement for serious citations as a stick and a carrot. Tell employers that appealing a serious citation with open abatement will toss them into the Appeals Board’s dreaded Expedited Appeal Process. But they can avoid this fate and their penalties will be reduced by completing abatement quickly, even if abatement is not practical or needed. If the employer denies they were in violation, tell them abatement needs to be done regardless. But be sure not to give them any advice on how in the world they should do it.  After all, you don’t want to tell them how to run their business.

    We are posting these pointers as a public service so that California employers can better understand the process. Once you know where the inspectors are coming from you will have a better understanding of where you are going. Hope, as they say, this helps.