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When a workplace accident brings a visit from OSHA

You may have taken every precaution to prevent a serious accident at your workplace. Following the guidelines in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, you have posted the most recent job safety flier and routinely offer training and reviews for your employees. Each year, you submit a report to OSHA summarizing any workplace injuries or job-related illnesses, which, thankfully, have been few and minor.

However, the unthinkable has happened, and an employee has suffered a devastating or fatal injury. Not only are you and your employees distraught over the accident, but you are now facing a visit and inspection from OSHA investigators. You may have concerns about how to prepare for such an event.

Preparing for the visit

The law requires you to report a fatal accident within 8 hours; however, it is likely that OSHA will know about the tragedy long before you report it. Emergency personnel usually contact OSHA when they respond to a workplace injury, so the agency will probably be on the lookout for your report. A fatality will likely trigger an investigation, placing your business and perhaps your welfare on the line.

Investigators are usually looking for violations of safety protocol, particularly among supervisors. Before inspectors arrive, you can help your cause by reviewing safety training records with employees so they can answer truthfully when asked about their latest training. When an investigator comes to the accident site, it may be best to suspend strenuous or dangerous activities during the visit.

Protecting yourself

OSHA investigators must follow certain protocol when inspecting the site of an accident. As manager, the best protection you can provide for yourself is to maintain control of the situation. This may involve restricting access to the accident site. Allowing your security staff or secretary to give access to investigators may hinder your cause. Additionally, you may wish to be aware of certain limitations placed on OSHA agents, including:

  • OSHA agents may not require you to allow union representatives from your staff to participate in the investigation.
  • Your employees may refuse to allow OSHA agents to record their interviews.
  • Agents may not enlist your managers or employees to participate in a reenactment of the accident.
  • You may insist that agents who interview your workers are fluent in the workers' native languages to prevent misunderstandings.
  • You may report any OSHA agent or investigator who engages in overly aggressive interview tactics or if too many investigators are involved in the interviews.

If agents request an interview with you or your management, you have the right to legal counsel. In fact, consulting with an attorney as soon as possible after the accident may be in your best interests.

Understanding your rights

From the moment OSHA investigators arrive on the premises, everything you and your employees say becomes part of the investigation. There is much at risk when investigators begin to question witnesses and others on your staff, and any inaccuracies or misunderstandings may seriously jeopardize your case if the matter should go to court.

An attorney who has experience dealing with OSHA and such investigations will be able to counsel you on the best way to proceed, the information the law requires you to give and the legal rights you must never surrender. No doubt, this tragic accident has changed the lives of many, including you and your employees. Seeking Ohio legal counsel may allow you to move forward with confidence in your good efforts to provide a safe environment for your employees.

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