Help! What Should I do After Receiving a Letter from OSHA?
As a member of USF SafetyFlorida’s management team, I receive a number of employer calls asking what action should be taken after receiving a letter from one of Florida’s OSHA area offices. I hear everything from …
- “This (letter) was generated by a disgruntled employee” to
- “The complaint has no merit. I know three other employers who did the exact same thing I do. Why is OSHA bothering me?” to
- “What do I do now?”
First, let’s dissect what the complaint letter really states. Someone, either in your organization or in the general public, contacted your local OSHA area office with information about a hazard in your workplace. The complaint was either anonymous, or the person who complained left contact information. (This distinction is important as you will see later.) The OSHA area office must respond to all complaints within a specific period of time. One option used is to send the employer a “Fix and Fax” letter, detailing the hazard reported and requesting information about your company’s policies and procedures regarding the hazard.
The disgruntled employee …
If the hazard in question was in the imagination of a disgruntled employee, the hazard will not exist in the first place. As an employer, you can discuss with the OSHA area compliance officer your worksite’s actual conditions (photographic evidence is good documentation), or, if the hazard actually exists, show how it is currently being mitigated through either engineering controls, personal protective equipment or a combination of both. If your employees use personal protective equipment , provide the compliance officer with a copy of your written policy or program addressing the equipment’s correct usage.
Don’t try and identify the employee who reported you. Employer retaliation, in any form, against an employee for reporting workplace hazards is illegal and could lead to whistle-blower action by OSHA to protect the employee. Remember, if OSHA has contact information of the complaining employee, they will find out about any retaliation efforts.
But my competitor does the exact same thing …
Let’s face facts; if the hazard is in your facility, then it’s not entirely out of realm it also exists in your competitor’s. But what matters is this. You are on OSHA’s radar today. Tomorrow? It very well may be the other business’s turn. Whether the hazard exists across the street or not has no bearing on the conditions in your facility. It’s your responsibility, as the employer, to provide a safe and healthful workplace for your employees. Also, it makes sense to eliminate the hazard, even if you think the hazard is commonplace within the industry. The cost of one accident far exceeds any savings gained by following the perceived “acceptable” way of doing things. One time, a caller wanted to go to each of his competitors in an attempt to enforce the hazardous condition outlined in the letter he received from OSHA. It might have given him some satisfaction, but only OSHA has the authority to enter and enforce standards.
Now what do I do?
If you receive a letter from OSHA requesting information on a reported hazard in your workplace, supply as much information as possible about the conditions outlined in the letter. You also should detail your efforts to mitigate the problem, provide written polices addressing the issue, and respond as soon as possible. Above all else, be honest. OSHA does conduct random follow-up on the responses received from employers!
We here at USF SafetyFlorida are available to provide you with a comprehensive on-site consultation. We will help you address whatever hazards were outlined in your letter, including those that require additional Industrial hygiene testing or analysis, free of charge. Our consultants will help you develop and implement work procedures and required OSHA safety programs that bring you into OSHA compliance. Please contact us if you need any help dealing with safety and health issues at your facility. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.