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Issue: 56 - Aug 15, 2013
OSHA Pays a Visit: Two Very Different Inspection Experiences
By: Chery F. Kendrick, DVM, MPVM, MLT, CFS
Kendrick Technical Services, LLC

Amazing how the simple becomes unnecessarily complicated, especially when you are dealing with arrogance and greed. Here is the story of two very different OSHA inspections I experienced over the past couple of months. The results and subsequent conversations with the inspectors were very enlightening.

Two of my client clinics had surprise OSHA inspections. BOTH were caused by complaints filed by disgruntled ex-employees - no surprise there, as that’s the number one reason OSHA inspects veterinary practices. (The second reason is that we are a targeted industry with what is considered a high injury rate compared to other industries. This makes us part of targeted inspection industry with a goal of 20% inspected annually)

The first inspectors were calm, business like and down to earth. They also seemed to have an understanding of the veterinary industry and indeed one was a former vet tech and the other had been a kennel helper at several clinics before changing to a career as an OSHA inspector.

Both had also in their previous careers in veterinary practice been to my workshops on OSHA and were familiar with my veterinary specific OSHA program so also anticipated no problems with my client and stated several times that they  just had to do their jobs, make a site visit, file their reports and check my client off their list.

First part of each inspection went very well as the front desk staff at both clinics presented the laminated “Inspection Protocol” sheet to the inspectors when they arrived. (This sheet shows we know and understand our rights to be present and also to have our designated ‘agents’ present for any inspection. Designated agents would be the practice manager, head tech or safety officer, and OSHA consultant). I was excited to see that the training I gave the team as I introduce them to the new forms and materials worked!

They won’t want to have you or your agents there, but by law we have this right and no one can prevent you from exercising it. (And no they cannot retaliate against you if you do this).

It just so happens I was in the town of client number one when their inspection occurred so it was easy for me to run over there, and for client number two they are in the next town over from where I live- that one was a little more interesting in terms of where I was when I got the call and I will get into that later.

At the first clinic the inspectors were shown the Inspection Protocol sheet and they took a seat in the waiting room while all of the designated folks were called.

I asked to speak to one of the inspectors when the practice manager called me and they were put on the line at the front desk. We introduced ourselves then I was told it (the inspection) should be no big deal I didn’t even need to show up as they just needed to do a quick walk around in order to “check on a few things”. I said no problem I will be there in about forty five minutes unless they wanted to reschedule for another day and time. Again she said oh I don’t want to put you out, I just can go back in the clinic and take a quick peak and be done. Again I reiterated that cannot happen without our team there, including me, and I can get there within an hour. She finally understood I was not budging on this and said they would wait inside their vehicle in the parking lot until I arrived. Good plan!

When I arrived I led them into the practice manager’s office where the five of us (veterinarian, PM two inspectors and me) had a quick meeting. It was stated that a complaint had been filed anonymously online stating there were dangerous chemicals and no one cared about people’s safety. There was also a mention made of dentals with no PPE (personal protective equipment) and radiographs were being taken without use of proper PPE. The inspector went on to say there was even a statement in the complaint that she was personally made fun of when she wanted to wear extra PPE when performing dentals. This statement caused eyes to roll and a few looks and smirks and a remark as to the likely suspect for filing the complaint. The inspector went on to say that information of course is confidential but as usually happens one can make a pretty good guess as to who the complainant was. (Note: we have NO legal recourse against someone who files a malicious unfounded complaint against us which is sometimes sad as our time is certainly better spent than responding to inspections and preparing OSHA summons responses!)

It just so happened that we had a dental scheduled and going on at that moment so proceeded to that area to a ‘live’ demonstration of our PPE protocol in action. Check! One item immediately got checked off on the list.

Next the inspector asked if she could talk to one of our techs who usually does radiographs. Of course our answer was it depends on the person but let’s go see. So we approached one of the techs who agreed to talk to the inspector “as long as Doc Chery stays here too” which was what she had been taught was her right- that she could have whoever she wanted present if an inspector chose to ask questions.

The inspector’s eyebrows rose at this response as she glanced my way. She then asked her name and then what PPE she uses when she takes a radiograph? The answer was perfect and another item is checked off of the list!

We then reconvened in the PMs office where our inspector gave us a clean bill of health in the form of a form checked off as inspected and compliant, complaints unfounded or unwarranted. She also then did a spiel about OSHA free inspection services, at which point the veterinarian asked “but can't you now charge us fines if you find any problem areas?” Our inspector again did the raised eyebrow thing then said ‘well yeah, we can, but that’s just because OSHA needs to make money ha-ha but we are pretty good at helping you get the fines lowered!” Not an answer that made my client want to sign up for OSHA’s ‘help’!

This first inspection went very well primarily because the inspector did not have an ego investment in it, but truly simply wanted to do her job and make sure the complaint was unfounded AND we were completely prepared with all paperwork in order, personalized manual and MSDSs and secondary container charts done and staff well trained.

The second inspection a few weeks later did not go as well. We did pass, but he made us jump through lots of hoops, waste lots of time, and was especially aggressive and ridiculously antagonistic.

It started with a phone call from my client’s Practice Manager that some very unfriendly aggressive OSHA inspectors were in the reception area trying to bully the receptionist. I said wow glad you caught me as I was just headed to my nephews after picking up my grandsons and heading to Northern Illinois. Can you put the inspector on the phone? She said sure and pretty soon I was listening to an OSHA inspector state his name, rank and serial number….OK maybe not that but sure felt like it.

He then wanted to know just who I was and I said as per the Inspection Protocol I know he was shown I am Dr. Kendrick the OSHA consultant for the practice. He said oh well they didn’t need to bother me he just needed to go in back and take a look at a few things. I said OK even though I am actually on holiday I could turn around and head back, but it would be about two hours before I could get there. I suggested perhaps they would like to go have lunch and come back and meet me then, or come back in two weeks when I am back in town. He again stated oh no bother, just go on your holiday I will just take my measurements and make my notes and be out of their hair here in a short time. No need for you to come in. I said oh but that is part of our protocol that I HAVE to be there for any inspection for any admittance and walk through it with you.

At this he raised his voice and started asking “so you are refusing admittance? Would you like me to write you up as refusing admittance? You know I can close you down for that!” I proceeded to tell him actually I am exercising my rights under OSHA codes to be present for any inspection and under what grounds was he proposing to shut us down? My understanding of OSHA code 1903.3 is we can only be shut down if our continued operation poses a sever hazard which could lead to severe injury or death of employees.

At this point he simply said yes that is your right but I am telling you that you don’t need to worry about it. I will be in and out in no time and just make an inspection and take some measurements. I said fine the choices remain do so in two hours or you can reschedule in two weeks? He agreed to wait the two hours.

I have to make a note here about this particular inspector. He had been brought to my attention by another client who called me only after an inspection had occurred. That inspection left his employees in tears and shaking and as one staff member put it “Made me afraid for the safety of myself, my family and even my old granny up north! Really Doc he was the most terrifying person I have ever had speak to me!” (This from a person who works in some of the toughest areas of her city with some high risk people helping with their high risk dogs) so I was proceeding cautiously with this inspector.

When I arrived at the clinic I made sure everyone was calm and knew I was there and everything was going to be fine. I met with my director and division managers then proceeded to meet the inspector. He was quite cordial and we had a good introductory briefing then the fun began.

He wanted to see everything and wanted to speak to employees in private. None of the staff agreed to that- all wanted me present. Four times I had to tell him his interrogation was over as he was bullying and intimidating and all people have a right to be questioned with respect. I also made sure I pulled out the card he had given to me and made a note to check in with his supervisor regarding his behavior.

At the closing conference he started pushing the OSHA training videos they have for sale, which have zero to do with the veterinary industry. He was not thrilled when our director said interesting for construction sites not for veterinary medical clinic.

Finally he made a list of demands to which each response by me was “fine, I can get that for you right now.” I would then mssg the HR director on my phone and her assistant would knock on the door a few seconds later with copies of the requested documents.

He was not thrilled with our efficiency. At one point it looked like he was in danger of imploding as he got to request for document number 17, and in came the assistant with a copy. He then closed his notepad loudly, proceeded to stand up and tell us we would hear back from him about any further air or noise testing he and his crew would come in to do.

I informed him that’s great, just be sure to send us an email to set up any testing date so we can be sure everyone is available and in place. He slammed his chair into the table and proceeded to head for the door. I thanked him and shook his and his assistant’s hand. The assistant had not spoken one word throughout the whole procedure.

Time spent preconference inspection interrogations and post conference = 3.25 hours.

Result: Full pass, complaint found to be unfounded. However I did develop a relationship with the quiet inspector in so much as he handed off the file to her to write the closing resolution report. Her observations and remarks about the inspection and inspector were what so eye opening for me.

Comments she made:

  1. “He handed this off to me to complete the paperwork as he could see he wasn’t making any money on this one so he’s off to the next deer in headlights.”
  2. “We talked about it in the office and decided we needed to nail clinics you are NOT the consultant for as it sure seems a headache and waste of time to go see any of your client clinics.” She laughed – I did not
  3. “With the new GHS requirements coming up we are figuring out which industries are most likely to be noncompliant- to not have a clue - so be the biggest payout for us.
  4. He really hated that chart you made and your GHS training program. He said that could ruin his Christmas!” (remember they get quarterly bonuses based on fines they recommend)
  5. “He said there should be a “Wanted” poster out for you for interfering with our inspections and his pocketbook. “

And the most chilling comment made:

  1. “He said darn good thing you weren’t there at (the other clinic that had been inspected before I was their consultant) as that was fun watching them squirm and profitable! “ (They were not aware that that clinic was now one of my clients)

Bottom-line:

I run across many good people, inspectors in every state, who are just trying to do their job, and do it diligently but with respect and care, and who are truly interested and appreciative of what we do. And then there are inspectors like him- and I am sorry to say they are in the majority and truly are salivating at the thought of the December 1, 2013 deadline coming up to become GHS (Globally Harmonized System of Labeling) compliant. They truly feel that the new GHS requirements will be the “entrance” into your clinic to discover other violations. I have been hearing this throughout the nation especially at OSHA meetings with inspectors in other states and meetings with the federal agency in DC.

A conference this summer in Chicago also produced the same comments. The veterinary industry is once again under the microscope of government regulators. Be sure you are ready. Here are the basics of compliance:

GHS compliance is simple:

  1. Train on what GHS is
  2. Familiarize your staff with the pictographs and warning words that they will see on packaging materials

OSHA compliance is pretty simple too:

  1. Identify potential hazards
  2. Protect against those hazards by having good work practices, protocols and PPE use requirements
  3. And label secondary containers which can be simplified but using charts I personalize for your use.
  4. Be sure to update your MSDS folder (on your computer) to include the latest SDSs that are out for many products we use.

Feel free to check out my Website for the tools to help you simplify compliance, and of course feel free to call me for a quote for onsite consulting work which includes personalized manual, labels and charts, (M)SDS library and training plus inspection protection.

And don’t forget to enjoy the end of summer, the beginning of a new school year and stay safe out there!

Chery

Chery F. Kendrick, DVM, MPVM, MLT, CFS is a writer, educator, speaker and consultant. She is the nation’s leading veterinary regulatory control and OSHA expert. Her time spent in Washington D.C. as an advocate for the veterinary profession with OSHA and other regulatory agencies has resulted in many positive compliance changes for our industry. Her manuals and training programs are used by clinics and animal care facilities nationwide. She has the only GHS compliance program specifically for the veterinary practice. She speaks at association meetings and conferences nationwide. Her well attended workshops are constantly praised as powerful resources for practice managers, veterinarians and their staff.

Please feel free to contact her at  chery@KendrickTechServices.com with your questions and visit her web site at www.KendrickTechServices.com

For information on Dr. Kendrick’s OSHA manuals, training programs, charts and onsite consulting services please feel free to contact her 24/7 at Kendrick Veterinary Consulting Group, LLC 865-405-4255 or chery@KendrickTechServices.com