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OSHA and self audits

Ask The Experts | By | 28 Jul 2023 | 3 minute read

two safety professionals conducting a self-audit on workplace safety in accordance with OSHA standards

Voluntary safety and health self-audits can be an important part of a company’s safety program. But what if an audit reveals some problems? Also, does it matter who conducts the audit? For example, a company employee, third-party consultant, or outside legal counsel (who oversees and controls the audit). And what if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asks to see your audit results – do you need to give those records?

This article hopes to provide answers and insights for all of these common questions and issues.

What is a self-audit?

A voluntary self-audit is when a company chooses to check its compliance against its own health and safety program. A self-audit is usually comprehensive and includes all aspects of the program. The purpose is to identify any hazards and areas of non-compliance and to address those areas, to enhance the overall effectiveness of the program.

5 points to remember about self-audits for OSHA compliance

1. Be prepared to eliminate or mitigate any hazards or deficiencies.

If you fail to do so when doing a self-audit, and OSHA shows up later, they could cite you with a ‘willful’ violation for allowing a known hazard to exist – or even refer the matter for criminal prosecution if a fatality is involved. Ultimately, making your workplace safer is the right thing to do and should be the primary focus of the audit in the first place.

2. Self-audits can also help you establish certain legal defenses to an OSHA citation.

For example, conducting self-audits shows you’re attempting to discover safety hazards and ensure compliance with your safety plan. This happens to be the third element of the ‘unpreventable employee misconduct’ affirmative defense. Also, conducting audits may help if you claim you had no notice of an employee’s violative conduct.

3. What if an audit reveals your employees are failing to comply with your safety rules?

If this happens, and you discipline the employees, you’ll establish the fourth element of the unpreventable employee misconduct defense.

4. Labeling safety audit reports as ‘confidential’ or subject to the ‘attorney-client privilege’ will NOT automatically shield the audit reports from OSHA inspectors.

If you retain an attorney for the purpose of the attorney providing you with legal advice and recommendations relating to your safety compliance, and an attorney in fact heads the audit, the attorney-client privilege should protect the disclosure of the audit results.

5. OSHA may obtain records of safety audits conducted by your liability insurance carrier.

OSHA’s stated policy is that it will not ‘routinely’ request ‘voluntary self-audit reports’ at the beginning of an inspection or use the audits to identify hazards on which to focus an inspection. However, OSHA does have the right to obtain such records by subpoena.

Some reminders

You should conduct self-audits. But when you do, you need to go in with your eyes wide open – not only to identify any potential hazards/areas of concern, but also with an understanding of the potential implications of the results.

Also, many contractors overlook the broad inspection requirement included in OSHA standard 1926.20(b)(2), entitled ‘’accident prevention responsibilities’, which provides that “programs shall provide for frequent and regular inspections of the job sites, materials, and equipment to be made by competent persons designated by the employers.” Too many contractors are failing to conduct and document self-inspections or realize it’s an OSHA requirement. This makes it an easy citation for OSHA, but moreover, employers could prevent many more injuries by finding hazards and correcting them before an injury occurs and pre-empting a citation by just doing the right thing.

Co-written by Gary Bonnett, former Customer Engagement Executive at SafetyCulture.

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Important Notice
The information contained in this article is general in nature and you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your specific needs. Legal and other matters referred to in this article are based on our interpretation of laws existing at the time and should not be relied on in place of professional advice. We are not responsible for the content of any site owned by a third party that may be linked to this article. SafetyCulture disclaims all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded) for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information contained in this article, any site linked to this article, and any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.