One has to reread a recent report of the Occupational Health and Safety Admin. before the message sinks in.

It says the federal agency’s inspections can save dealerships money. Sounds like an oxymoron to lots of dealers, but the report says OSHA inspections not only prevent workers from getting hurt on the job, but also save billions of dollars for employers through reduced workers' compensation costs.

This research indicates:

  • Workplace-injury claims dropped 9.4% in the four years following an inspection.
  • Inspected companies realized a 26% average savings on workers’ compensation costs compared with similar, non-inspected companies.
  • Inspections translate into a $355,000 average savings for an employer, small or large.

The study’s researchers say: “The benefits of a randomized safety inspection appear to be substantial. These results do not support the hypothesis that OSHA regulations and inspections on average have little value in improving health and safety.”

Furthermore, the researchers found “no evidence that these improvements came at the expense of employment, sales, credit ratings or firm survival.”

Here are some takeaways:

Staff training and self-audits prepare a dealership for a successful OSHA audit. Preemptive OSHA audit-compliance reviews are measurable investments for dealers.

Fines for dealerships audited and found in violation of OSHA’s many compliance mandates can be up to $90,000 per violation.

Dealers who often mistakenly believe they are complying with OSHA are surprised when an audit shows otherwise. One way to be certain the dealership is in compliance and positioned to avoid or minimize penalties and fines is to make OSHA compliance mandatory.

The agency’s inspectors rarely announce their visits. They want to catch any sloppiness or oversight in action. Audit activity has intensified since the recent recession. Periodic compliance audits by qualified third-party auditors can help identify any safety and health risks before OSHA does.

OSHA makes employers responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces and sets certain standards to help ensure that.

OSHA might visit for any number of reasons, including worker complaints, a high number of reported injuries or illnesses, repeat violations, a catastrophic event or, as mentioned, a random surprise inspection.

Here is what to look for and correct before OSHA arrives or an event occurs:

  • The shop is not Department of Transportation-certified. Every dealership today must be certified as handlers of hazardous materials, including used motor oils, activated air bags and other wastes.
  • Missing signage, including “exit” and “not an exit” signs and exit-route maps.
  • Parts, parts shelving and crates blocking access to electrical panels.
  • Personal safety equipment missing around grinders, welders and similar tools and machinery.
  • Missing fire extinguishers or extinguishers not properly marked or located where easily visible.

OK, say, you’ve conducted a self-inspection and corrected potential violations. Nonetheless, an OSHA inspector appears at your dealership. What do you do? Here are some recommendations:

Let the inspector get right to work. Making him or her wait sends the message you’re not ready. Don’t lie or be evasive.

Let the inspectors do their job. Have a pre-assigned and designated staff member walk the inspector through your facility. Have ready all required documents, including safety plans.

Keep other individuals clear so they don’t interfere, but don’t discourage anyone from sharing with the inspector. You don’t want inspectors exercising their subpoena powers.

Essentially, be prepared.

Inspections need not be a troubling once you’ve taken steps to correct violations and put in place OSHA-required programs. Internal or third-party reviews go a long way toward keeping a dealership in total compliance.

That can save money and save sweating it out when OSHA inspectors unexpectedly show up.

Former auto dealer Terry Dortch is president of Automotive Compliance Consultants. He can be reached at terry_dortch@compliantnow.com