Most of us will never have to deal with a random Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection. But if you do, it’s guaranteed to come at the worst possible time.
I recently took a Caribbean cruise vacation with my wife. My plant manager was off recovering from knee surgery, and a supervisor and several team leaders were left to supervise the healthcare laundry. It was then that OSHA decided to pay a surprise visit.
The inspector introduced herself and showed her identification. Our laundry’s name had come up on a randomly generated list, she said. She requested a tour and the following documentation for review: federal ID number; OSHA’s Form 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) for 2004, 2005 and 2006; “Lockout-Tagout” program; “Confined Space” program; “Exposure” program; “Safety Compliance” program; and our Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) book.
While the office staff and the lead mechanic quickly pulled together all the documentation she requested, our supervisor took the inspector on a tour. The inspector made a few suggestions:
• We routinely store lightweight boxes of filters on top of the air compressor room. This area inside the building is a tempting storage place. The inspector recommended that if we’re going to store items there, its roof should have a load-bearing rating.
• The air compressor room has a ventilation duct to remove hot air. The inspector recommended that chicken-wire mesh be installed over the opening.
• The laundry is equipped with a mezzanine floor used for storage. The inspector recommended that this floor should have a load-bearing rating.
The only “issue” the OSHA inspector found was in the electrical room, where an electrical panel was missing a small section of cover, which exposed wires. This panel, which electricians who wired the building during construction should have installed four years ago, had simply been missed by everyone. The OSHA inspector informed our laundry supervisor that we would be cited for the infraction.
The OSHA inspector then reviewed the documentation in our conference room. It was in order and “looked good,” she said. She would mail all of the necessary documentation about the infraction, and the laundry would be given time to correct it. We solved the problem she had identified within hours of her departure.
In reviewing how we performed during the inspection, the laundry management team has decided to create a central location for all of the documentation that had been requested. While we hope never to have another inspection, we want to be prepared in case one does happen.
It’s my belief that we were chosen for random inspection because of safety issues that occurred in laundries elsewhere. Bad press can raise the visibility of the entire industry in OSHA’s eyes and make it far more likely that your laundry might receive a random inspection. I believe that OSHA’s use of the term “random” simply means that the agency is visiting your facility as part of a routine inspection effort rather than in direct response to a complaint from an employee.
I’ve worked in the laundry industry for 35 years and this is only the second time an inspector has shown up to inspect my laundry. The first was during the years I worked in Alabama. The OSHA inspectors said they were responding to a complaint. When I notified them that the laundry was set up as a governmental agency and they confirmed it, they left stating that OSHA had no authority to review the operations of governmental agencies. I was never told about the complaint or the issue that had been reported.
The odds are pretty good that your laundry will never be inspected. But gathering the appropriate information into a central location will certainly make it easier on everyone involved should OSHA come calling.