Skip links

OSHA Inspections and Your Club: Their Rights and Yours

Workplace safety should be a priority at every club. Potential hazards should be identified and addressed, employees should be trained on proper procedures and management should follow best practices and remain vigilant about reducing workplace injuries.

Oftentimes, when workplace safety is addressed, it comes in the form of operational safety requirements, such as those established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA’s mission is to assure safe working conditions for all employees. One of the ways it accomplishes this goal is mandating employers to comply with safety and health standards, which are both general and industry specific.

In this article, we look at both sides of the coin. First, how far is OSHA’s reach? How are their requirements enforced? What are the consequences when workplace hazards are found upon inspection? Conversely, what rights do clubs have when it comes to OSHA inspections and enforcement?

Their Rights

OSHA ensures its mandated health and safety requirements are being adhered to through inspections—these can be voluntary, or, they can be triggered by probable cause.

OSHA regulations provide for consultation agreements between federal OSHA and various state labor departments throughout the United States. Under these agreements, OSHA utilizes state safety inspectors to provide consultative services to employers who seek assistance in that state. These services are made available through the various state agencies at no cost to employers.

During the inspection, the inspector will evaluate the club’s safety and heath program and will identify specific hazards observed in the workplace. They can then help the club establish or improve its safety program and correct hazardous conditions.

Clubs should be aware that if the state inspector discovers hazards during the evaluation, those hazards would not result in a penalty if the club immediately takes steps to correct them. If the hazards are deemed to be an “imminent danger” to employees, the state inspector can require that they be corrected immediately. If the club fails to correct the problem immediately, the state will inform the appropriate OSHA enforcement authority.

Your Rights

While OSHA has the right to enforce its regulations, clubs also have rights. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, OSHA can’t just barge into your workplace and bully management. Employers, like clubs, are well within their rights to set certain limits.

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently published an article after consulting with attorneys regarding this very issue. Some of the rights highlighted include:

  • The right to demand an inspection warrant that establishes OSHA’s probable cause to inspect.
  • The right to an opening conference prior to the start of an inspection.
  • The right to accompany the compliance officer at all times during the walk-around.
  • The right to take side-by-side photographs or other physical evidence that OSHA representatives obtain during the inspection.
  • The right to be present and participate in interviews of management witnesses, regardless of whether the management witness personally wants his or her interview to be private.
  • The right to contest OSHA citations (which are considered allegations in actuality).
  • The right that OSHA’s inspection be conducted reasonably when it comes to factors likes timing, scope and manner.
  • The right not to be compelled to speak in absence of a court order or other law.
  • The right to walk the inspector directly to the area they’re on property to inspect, rather than allowing them to freely roam the property looking to uncover violations.

The last bullet is especially important. “It is this requirement of reasonableness that gives employers the right to push back on overly burdensome or disruptive requests,” an attorney explains in the SHRM article.

The attorneys recommend that employers do their best not to be obstructionist but at the same time set ground rules for an inspection.

Take Action

There are a couple of actions clubs can take to prevent OSHA violations and the headache of inspections gone awry. This may not be a bad idea financially, as OSHA says an effective safety and health program saves time and money—about $4 for every dollar spent.

First and foremost is the self-inspection. This is the most widely accepted way to ensure workplace hazards are being addressed. Typically a club’s safety committee is tasked with conducting regular self-inspections, which should not merely be for the purpose of preparing for a possible OSHA inspection. Rather, self-inspections provide a routine check on the adequacy and completeness of the club’s safety program.

Club safety programs are also one of the best ways to avoid trouble. OSHA recommends committing to a four-point safety program:

1. Gain management commitment and employee support

Involve club employees in the hazard analysis process; they are a great resource because of their unique understanding of the ins and outs of the job. Getting workers to “buy in” and share ownership of creating a safe and healthy place to work pays off. The club’s safety committee also has a significant role to play.

2. Analyze work areas 

Conducting a workplace analysis (or self inspection) can help ensure that processes are in place to keep employees safe. The safety committee can conduct its own analysis, or as mentioned earlier, voluntary inspections can be arranged through various state agencies at no cost to employers.

3. Implement hazard prevention and control

This can include developing written procedures, appointing a responsible club official to take ownership of the hazard prevention plan, drafting a contingency plan, training employees, thinking about long-term capital needs and consulting with the club’s insurance underwriter.

4. Train managers, supervisors and employees

Successful training may include asking an outside consultant for help, training employees to recognize potential hazards and instructing club supervisors to reinforce training both formally and every day on the job. New employees are particularly vulnerable, as they are learning about their new role and may be working with new equipment.

For further guidance on OSHA and workplace safety, purchase NCA’s comprehensive publication HR Management: Best Practices for Private Clubs on the online store

Laura Hayes is NCA’s communications manager.