If your company is involved in an OSHA inspection or received OSHA citations, you have probably asked yourself if you need an OSHA attorney. The short answer to that question is no, you don’t need an OSHA attorney—you can handle the inspection or the citations yourself. But the answer is different if you’re asking if you should have an OSHA attorney. In that case, the answer is usually yes. Below is an explanation why.
Guide You Through the Process
Any time a governmental entity is investigating your company, it is stressful and can be intimidating. OSHA inspections are no different, and many company representatives don’t know what an OSHA inspection entails, what happens following an inspection, and/or the impact it could have in the company. An OSHA attorney can walk you through the process, and explain what happens both during and after an inspection and the impact citations can have on your company. This takes much of the stress out of an OSHA inspection.
Most company representatives don’t know the ins and outs of the rules and policies OSHA is supposed to follow when conducting an inspection or issuing citations. OSHA will take advantage of that lack of knowledge, often expanding the inspection beyond its proper scope, issuing improper citations, and taking other liberties.
If you involve an experienced OSHA attorney, that attorney knows the rules and procedures OSHA is supposed to follow when conducting an inspection and issuing citations, and will require OSHA to follow them. In doing that, the scope of the inspection and any resulting citations is usually significantly narrowed and limited.
Create a Barrier
Once an OSHA inspection starts, it feels like it never ends. This includes requests for access to the worksite or facility, for records, to interview employees, and to do any number of other activities. When company representatives handle OSHA inspections, OSHA inspectors usually call and email them repeatedly during the course of an OSHA inspection. This free flow of information makes it difficult to track the information provided to OSHA, and can be overwhelming, requiring company representatives to take significant time away from their actual job to address the inspectors’ emails, calls, requests, etc.
Involving an OSHA attorney creates a barrier between OSHA and the company, which requires OSHA to communicate with the attorney and not company representatives. This limits communication between OSHA and the company representatives, ensuring that the information provided to OSHA is accurate, appropriate, and properly tracked. In doing this, the attorney can limit the both the scope of the inspection and the company’s exposure to citations.
Maintain Good Relations
It is always smart for a company to maintain good relations with OSHA. Many companies think that means allowing OSHA to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. As a result, they often give OSHA unfettered access to their jobsite or facility, employees, and documents. They are afraid that if they push back on an OSHA request or say “no,” OSHA will hold that against the company or think the company is hiding something. To some extent, that concern is valid.
If you involve an OSHA attorney, that attorney will act as the “bad guy,” telling OSHA “no” when appropriate, which allows company representatives to maintain a good relationship with OSHA. OSHA understands that part of an OSHA attorney’s job is saying “no,” so they view push back from an OSHA attorney as the attorney doing his or her job, not trying to obstruct the investigation or hide something.
As frustrating as an OSHA inspection can be, receiving citations following the inspection is even more frustrating. This is due in large part to the fact that company representatives often do not understand the basis for the citations, and are not equipped to evaluate the validity of the citations. An OSHA attorney can evaluate the validity of the citations for you, telling you which citations will likely stick and which won’t. Having that information is critical when trying to negotiate and resolve the citations with OSHA—without it, company representatives often find themselves pleading with OSHA to delete, modify, reclassify, or reduce the citations without any valid arguments supporting their position.
Handle the Informal Conference
When company representatives receive OSHA citations, they are often confused as to what their options are moving forward. Even if they know about and schedule the informal conference, they often are not prepared for the informal conference and do not handle it properly.
An OSHA attorney can advise you as to your options after receiving citations; can evaluate the merits of the citations; and can work with you to formulate a strategy for the informal conference based on the merits of the citations. In formulating that strategy, an OSHA attorney can tell you what to bring with you to the informal conference to back-up your arguments, what talking points to touch on and avoid, and what a final settlement should look like. The OSHA attorney can then run point at the informal conference, explaining the company’s position to OSHA in both practical and legal terms, and involving company representatives as needed. By properly preparing for and handling the informal conference, an OSHA attorney can help ensure you get the best deal possible on the merits.
Contest & Litigate Citations
Whenever a company receives OSHA citations, company representatives all want to know one thing: “what are my chances of beating the citations?” It’s a good question, and one that should always be asked because the answer forms the basis for any settlement with OSHA and helps them determine whether to accept OSHA’s settlement offer or move forward with contesting the citations.
An OSHA attorney is the only one who can answer that question for you. An OSHA attorney can also tell what goes into litigating the citations, including, most importantly, how much it is likely to cost. Once you have all that information, you can then make an informed decision as to how to proceed in resolving the citations.
While there is no requirement that you hire an OSHA attorney, properly managing an OSHA inspection and handling OSHA citations can be a difficult task without one, and as explained above, the benefits of hiring one nearly always outweigh the costs. If you are interested in discussing your OSHA issue with an OSHA attorney, please call or email one of our experienced OSHA attorneys.