It might not come as a surprise, but health and safety inspectors don't have the easiest of jobs. They have to stay up with all the regulations at the federal, state, and local levels, complete inspections of unsafe locations, and deal with not the sharpest tools in the shed.
The inspectors in the following stories recently took to Reddit to air their grievances and expose some of the worst working conditions, owners, and employees they have experienced over the years. Take a look at some of the most maddening and dumbfounding stories we could find.
All posts have been edited for clarity.
"We received a complaint about workers using liquid nitrogen inside of a confined space. I went out to this sand and gravel company and saw this 30-foot-long, above-ground storage tank. There was a liquid nitrogen tank outside the opening and two workers outside. I showed my ID and discovered one of the workers outside was the foreman and the other was monitoring the air quality for the workers. All good, right? Nope.
The entrance was a small square opening at the end. There were four workers inside the tank using liquid nitrogen to cool the tar in the tank so it could be chipped out. So, they were introducing a gas which could displace oxygen. The person doing air monitoring had a probe only a couple feet long, so it was only really checking the air quality of the fresh air mixed with tank air, NOT the air in the workers' breathing zone. The workers were about 15 feet into the tank.
They had no confined space training, no confined space permit, no rescue plan. The foreman then copped an attitude and told me I was wasting their time.
I red-tagged the operation (normally reserved for only when voluntary immediate compliance seems unlikely) and told them it was illegal for them to continue work or re-enter the tank until they met the confined space rules. A couple of the crew privately thanked me for getting them out of that situation.
They were forced to pay a pretty hefty fine, which the company didn't appeal. I think the foreman got fired as management seemed unaware that the activity was taking place and was further upset at the foreman's reaction. Normally, sand and gravel companies in my area do a good job with health and safety — it was a rare miss for them."
"I'm a Port State Inspector. For me and most of my colleagues, the biggest problems always relate to fire safety, particularly fire doors. The amount of time I've found auto closing doors tied, wedged, weighted or just fixed in the open position is maddening. Fire is the worst thing that can happen on a ship, and these doors have to be able to be closed at any time but people are too freaking lazy to open a stupid door, so they tie them open, and then guess what? Time and time again, there is a fire and when we do the investigation (assuming there is anything left to investigate), we find a fire door fixed open that's allowed the fire to spread. People in my industry literally die every year because some freaking AB or assistant engineer to too freaking lazy to open a door.
So that's the most maddening. The dumbest would be when a captain tried to stop us from coming on board in the first place. For your information, if you are working in the marine industry, never try this. It will end badly for you. One of two things will happen: We will just refuse your ship access and blacklist you, or we will allow you in and then immediately detain the ship. I remember one captain stood on the gangway and tried to block me and my boss from boarding. He said, 'This is unreasonable! We have had no time to clean up or anything!' Then he demanded we come back after he had finished cargo operations. Hearty laughs were had, and we told him he had however long it was going to take us to walk back up to the harbor master station and walk back down with the Royal Police and that in the meantime, the ship was detained.
We got on without needing the police. The captain basically followed us around trying to give excuses for everything we found, mostly in the vein of things had been hectic, and they hadn't had a chance to clean up after the work. We ended up detaining the ship anyway after we found multiple fuel leaks and a lake of crank case oil floating in the bilge and multiple ISM deficiencies.
With ships registered in certain countries you know it's probably going to be bad before you ever step on board."
"My dad works on a large renovation project for a national landmark. He identified a hazard where workers putting up scaffolding would have to walk along the sloped incline of a plateau that functioned as the foundation for a construction shack, all the while carrying the scaffolding components.
They didn't have to walk up the hill, or down the hill, but along the entire width of the sloped base. This is a hazard since workers had no form of handrails/other support and could easily twist their ankles or lose their balance.
He notified the foreman about this in the morning, but he didn't think it was a problem. He notified the site manager of this in response, but he was in meetings all morning.
That afternoon, he spotted a group of three guys walking on the construction site. Shorts, sandals, and no helmets.
He walked up to them and said, 'So, gents, what are we doing? You know you need steel toed boots and helmets right?'
'Yes sir, but we're just leaving and heading home. We all twisted our ankles and can't continue working.'
Sure enough, all of them had scraped/bruised knees and shins. They were the workers putting up the scaffolding, and every single one of them was injured.
Half an hour later, the foreman came walking over to him, 'What do you think you're doing, going over my head like that! I have got a schedule to finish here! Those scaffolds need to be up by tomorrow and wired by the end of the week! I don't have time for this.'
My dad simply said, 'I don't know if you've noticed, but all the workers for the scaffolding have gone home injured. And now, since they can't finish the scaffolding, the electricians can't start on the wiring the day after tomorrow and the whole project is looking at a two-week delay at least.'"
"I actually am an OSHA Inspector but I work for a state that has their own state OSHA Plan (same as Federal OSHA but a little stricter). My office alone, which is just one county, has over 40 compliance officers. Yes, a lot of people hate us, and yes, there are some bad compliance officers, just like there are some bad police officers. When we come on site, we would love nothing more than to find zero violations. The amount of paper work we have to do is astronomical. We have to treat every case as if it is going to court even though maybe only 2 percent do.
People die at work every day from very preventable reasons. Yes, sometimes injuries and deaths are caused by employees not following company rules or taking shortcuts, but statistics also show that the companies with very good safety programs have lower accident rates and are typically very profitable.
As for worst violation that I have seen, I investigated a multiple death incident at a company. An employee entered a permit required confined space without utilizing the proper precautions. The employee became unconscious due to the inert gases that were not properly purged from the space. Another employee walked by, saw the unconscious employee, tried to rescue him, that employee then became unconscious. Then again with another employee. Now they have three unconscious employees who eventually died of lack of oxygen.
During the investigation we found out the company had no written confined space policy or rescue procedures. We found out after performing employee interviews that they were told to hold their breath while they performed work in the space because they were only checking a gauge and it would only take like 30 seconds.
After about $500,000 in fines and the owner actually going to jail for five months, the company went out of business.
And the worst part is a fire department was located across the street, and they were trained in confined space rescue."
"I work as a Fire Safety and Health and Safety Inspector. At one of my sites, a small/medium-sized shop, I was made aware of a 'hidden' room. There's a narrow corridor to enter that they blocked off whenever they knew I was coming. There was no fire-door so any fire would spread straight onto the main shopping area.
The room contained a plethora of 400/415 volt panels and was absolutely rammed with wood, cardboard boxes, and what felt like every combustible material possible, roughly 30 years worth of junk. Essentially, the mother of all fire hazards with enough immediate fuel and oxygen to burn down the building and neighboring stores.
The maddening part of it was essentially all the staff at the shop were aware of it but did nothing to fix the issue and even actively worked to hide it. If you see a fire hazard, please fix it or report it!
Also, the sole fire escape was jammed due to the door warping and would not open at all, having not been checked in the roughly two months since I was last on site."
"This happened in the plant I was working in. This idiot is told by junior manager to clean the floor after a chemical spill (I don't recall what it was for certain, but we used a LOT of industrial adhesives, so maybe that). Idiot ignores all his safety training, and the entire closet full of cleaning gear, and decides to clean the spill with acetone. And a steel wire brush.
It wasn't so much of an explosion as a deep 'whumph' sound that sucked most of the air out of the room. I was close enough to feel the air pressure change when it ignited. Didn't find out what had happened until after we were allowed back in the building.
He was horribly burned. His clothes melted into his skin. Third degree burns covered his body. Incredibly, he was still alive when the firemen and paramedics got there. He opened his eyes, asked for a smoke, and died right there on the floor.
What did we do? Hosed down the floor, and the line was back up by that afternoon. I quit that job as soon as I was able."
"My stepbrother managed a warehouse that had industrial sized rolls of aluminum and other metals. These rolls weighed multiple tons each. They would use an automated crane. They would program each space available, and the crane would place the rolls where they were delegated.
My stepbrother told me about an employee that knew how to work the system with the FMLA (family medical leave act) — this guy was lazy beyond belief and knew how to get away with it. It turns out he programmed a slot on the top of a stack to be a dead zone, no rolls would go to that one spot. He set up a makeshift bed and would crawl up and take naps. He kept this secret, obviously.
If someone had seen this spot was unused and reprogrammed it, the automated crane would have placed a four-ton roll on top of him while he slept.
Some people are wild."
"I work in environmental compliance, specifically air pollution control. One day, we received a complaint from a former employee of a company about a whole laundry list of stuff his former employer was doing wrong. That's not super unusual, people get fired or quit on bad terms and call basically every agency they can think of for 'payback.'
We responded. When we got there, there were a few things that weren't right, but the icing on the cake was that they had this pollution control device that was supposed to be collecting dust from one of their processes. One problem though — all the dust was on the ground around it. We told them in no uncertain terms that it was unacceptable, and that they needed to clean it up immediately. We also told them we would be back to make sure they did.
A couple of weeks later, we scheduled a visit. I cannot stress enough that this time they knew we were coming. Guess what we saw on our return? Dust all over the ground. The kicker is, they had this broom and shovel out there the first time, and it was still there the second time...just leaning on the wall like 3 feet from where it was the first time.
That means they either a) never cleaned up the dust, or b) that they cleaned up the dust and subsequently spilled more...but either way someone had to go out there and move the shovel. So, despite us telling them that they could not do this, and that we were going to come back and make sure it was corrected, they went ahead and did literally nothing to improve the situation."
"My father was a safety coordinator at Kennecott Copper Mine, and boy, I'll go in order of severity...
First, there were times that he caught the crew out by the woods trying to feed apples to the deer. They had skewered the apples and were trying to reach as far over the fences as they could to coax them just a bit closer. Nobody fired.
Next, he found some guys trying to break this gigantic bolt. He came across them right at the time that one was standing under this giant wrench to hold it in place while another guy was climbing up onto some equipment and planned to jump onto the wrench. Genius, I know. Two guys got fired that day.
Then comes the story about the acid vat... During a shut down, he came across some guys playing 'Jack Be Nimble' with the opening of the acid vat. Needless to say, these vats, designed to process ores, were extremely dangerous. My father came across them doing this as one guy jumped and lost his shoe in the vat. Instantly disintegrated. About eight guys got fired that day, and the one had the balls to ask for a replacement for his shoe! Probably why my dad has high blood pressure nowadays."
"A man lost his foot on top of a 1,400-ton injection molding machine. The machine was in automatic mode with a robot picker.
There was an alarm on the robot that stopped the process. A technician was on scene within seconds. He noticed the alarm and went up on top of the machine to address the issue. He had to stand on a tie rod with Z-notches cut into it and manipulate the robot to reset the system. He had one foot in the notch on the tie rod.
In the meantime, an engineer came down from the office area and also noticed that the machine was in an interrupted cycle. He opened the door of the machine, turned the run/manual/run back and forth to restart automatic operation. He closed the door... down on the technician's foot. Tech got lots of money (still works for the company). Engineer did not get fired. And they blamed the technician for not tagging the machine as inoperable.
I have many stories like this. The plant I worked in was just one giant accident waiting to happen."
"I was conducting a mock audit of a plant in my company where I was just wandering around doing my own thing when I noticed that there was an issue with a proofing tray that needed to be fixed. Bread dough needs to rest and these trays rest the bread after mixing but before forming.
The standard procedure would be to stop the line and get a cherry picker in there to do the work. I know this because I wrote it. The problem is the cherry pickers are across the plant in the warehouse, are slow, and hard to maneuver into place because this was in-between two lines about 15 feet apart from each other with pipework and cables running between them at 7 to 10 feet.
Instead, the maintenance guy climbed up the side of the machine and shimmied along the edge of the proofer, so he was 20 feet in the air untethered and above the product line. He took his free hand and wrenched on stuff. He gave a thumbs up to the operator to start the line again, so he could watch these gears turning inches from his hands that were holding him up. I took a few pictures and started sending people to take a break. I stopped the line, call the lead over, and motioned for the maintenance guy to come down. I didn't have my radio because the real secret part of these audits are that I was trying to avoid work.
Because he was working above the product line and didn't follow procedure, we had to stop and clean the line, throwing out around 7,000 pounds of bread dough because we had to take it out of the mixers, off the line, out of the proofers. We had to do this because bread dough, especially our recipes, have a short time of being manageable before they grow too big and won't work anymore. Because this would take longer than that small window, and we couldn't stop mixing in all but one machine that had only dumped the dry ingredients, we had to toss it all.
The reason is that in food safety, the floor is poison. And there is no five second rule. Once it touches the floor it is dead to you and either needs to be tossed or cleaned by sanitation. If it's red, certain parts of it can touch the floor, but after touching a red colored item you need to wash your hands before touching anything else. Shoes count as part of the floor. Anything your shoe touches is subjected to same treatment as the floor.
Because this guy climbed above the product line and started monkeying with stuff, everywhere his boots touched or where above had to be cleaned. No getting around it. We had to take out all the proofing trays because we couldn't tell which ones was underneath his shoes. And wash the belt under the proofer. This didn't go over well with anyone because they just did this as part of weekly cleaning two days earlier and it took six hours. Lots of people asked why I didn't stop him and I replied I'm here to observe, not to interact. If I wasn't here, what would have happened? Either way it didn't matter because everyone had a dotted line to me, so they had to do what I said. And my boss just asked why didn't he get the picker, which would have taken 20 minutes instead of hours? And he got in trouble with the safety committee as he was not tethered for when he has to climb on the proofer."
"I spent many years doing safety inspections and I have seen some 'fun' things in my time. I have seen industrial fan's cords spliced onto an extension cord with the bare wires exposed and charred, all while the employer saying it's fine because it still worked. An owner of a nursing home reached into a used and full needle container to prove that needles were not being recapped. A guy outside of a window on the third story of a house, on the edge of a board, removing a window pane without any fall protection while his two buddies were inside on the other side of the board holding him up (that is level of trust that I do not have with most folks).
One day, I was walking up to a house and the owners had made a makeshift driveway out of asbestos siding that they had removed from the building the previous day and I saw kids playing in the area.
Another one was at a compressed gas cylinder filling station, where they would receive old cylinders, and they would have to empty them prior to repairing or destroying them. The guy doing this would take them out back, and while holding his breath, would secure them and open up the valves to empty them and then go inside. This worked okay for a while until it didn't, and he got dosed with a massive exposure to a highly toxic gas (the company usually didn't deal with this gas but had received from one of their customers for disposal) which almost caused complete renal failure.
These are just a few that I can recall that stuck with me. There are lots and lots of run-of-the-mill safety issues that I see all the time, but the majority of the time its ignorance of the law and not malice for most employers."
"Part of my job involves working in confined spaces accessing cabling ducting and risers. There's a ton of confined spaces working regulations in this country that have to be met when working in spaces such as these.
The work we do is classed as very low risk confined space but a friend of mine works at a chemical processing plant and sometimes has to enter empty chemical holding tanks or pressure vessels to clean out sediment and other contaminants by hand. Obviously these are classed as massively high risk.
There was an incident a few years back at his place when a new management team took over and the cleanup crews were ordered to go in and clean out an unknown sediment layer without proper breathing apparatus. They had air-fed fume hoods but these were nowhere near sufficient protection. Previously they would bring a specialist contract company onsite who had all the necessary gear and training to carry out the work safely but the new management didn't want to spend the money. The union got involved and there were threats of the company being reported to the HSE (UK equivalent of OSHA) for endangering life.
Weirdly though, according to one of the contractors I was speaking to previously mentioned that it's usually the confined spaces classified as low risk that are the biggest killers. Apparently, when it's an obvious high risk situation or when nasty chemicals are involved, you're more inclined to treat it with caution, yet it's in a seemingly harmless space that stuff tends to go wrong.
Apparently, what usually happens is Person A enters an unknown space without a risk assessment or the proper protective equipment, passes out. Person B enters the space to try to retrieve Person A, passes out. If they're lucky, Person C calls the fire service and once they arrive on site and suit up, enter the space to retrieve two bodies. If they're unlucky, there is no Person C."