A “willful” violation can occur if the employer knew that he was violating a standard or if he was reckless. A good way to convince an OSHA inspector of recklessness (and thus willfulness) is to ignore employee complaints of danger, or worse, accident reports.
A lawyer knowledgeable on OSHA issues will serve as a buffer between the agency and the company’s management. He can make sure that responses to document requests are neither too broad nor too narrow.
A careful employer will review employee complaints, accident reports and minutes of safety meetings, and make sure that every item properly is evaluated and if found to be a problem, either fixed or scheduled for fixing with alternative protective measures implemented in the interim. Employers should not allow unaddressed items in such documents to smolder in their files, ready to be fanned into willfulness by an OSHA inspector.