The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is committed to strong, fair and effective enforcement of safety and health requirements in the workplace. OSHA inspectors, called compliance safety and health officers, are experienced, well-trained industrial hygienists and safety professionals whose goal is to assure compliance with OSHA requirements and help employers and workers reduce on-the-job hazards and prevent injuries, illnesses and deaths in the workplace. Normally, OSHA conducts inspections without advance notice. Employers have the right to require compliance officers to obtain an inspection warrant before entering the worksite.
OSHA cannot inspect all 7 million workplaces it covers each year. The agency seeks to focus its inspection resources on the most hazardous workplaces in the following order of priority:
1. Imminent danger situations—hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm— receive top priority. Compliance officers will ask employers to correct these hazards immediately— or remove endangered employees.
2. Fatalities and catastrophes—incidents that involve a death or the hospitalization of three or more employees—come next. Employers must report such catastrophes to OSHA within 8 hours.
3. Complaints—allegations of hazards or violations also receive a high priority. Employees may request anonymity when they file complaints.
4. Referrals of hazard information from other federal, state or local agencies, individuals, organizations or the media receive consideration for inspection.
5. Follow-ups—checks for abatement of violations cited during previous inspections—are also conducted by the agency in certain circumstances.
6. Planned or programmed investigations— inspections aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses— also receive priority.
OSHA carefully prioritizes all complaints it receives based on their severity. For lower-priority hazards, with permission of a complainant, OSHA may telephone the employer to describe safety and health concerns, following up with a fax providing details on alleged safety and health hazards. The employer must respond in writing within five working days, identifying any problems found and noting corrective actions taken or planned. If the response is adequate and the complainant satisfied with the response, OSHA generally will not conduct an on-site inspection.
Preparation—Before conducting an inspection, OSHA compliance officers research the inspection history of a worksite using various data sources, review the operations and processes in use and the standards most likely to apply. They gather appropriate personal protective equipment and testing instruments to measure potential hazards. Presentation of credentials—The onsite inspection begins with the presentation of the compliance officer’s credentials, which include both a photograph and a serial number.
Opening Conference—The compliance officer will explain why OSHA selected the workplace for inspection and describe the scope of the inspection, walkaround procedures, employee representation and employee interviews. The employer then selects a representative to accompany the compliance officer during the inspection. An authorized representative of the employees, if any, also has the right to go along. In any case, the compliance officer will consult privately with a reasonable number of employees during the inspection.
Walkaround—Following the opening conference, the compliance officer and the representatives will walk through the portions of the workplace covered by the inspection, inspecting for hazards that could lead to employee injury or illness. The compliance officer will also review worksite injury and illness records and posting of the official OSHA poster. During the walkaround, compliance officers may point out some apparent violations that can be corrected immediately. While the law requires that these hazards must still be cited, prompt correction is a sign of good faith on the part of the employer. Compliance officers try to minimize work interruptions during the inspection and will keep confidential any trade secrets they observe.
Closing Conference—After the walk-around, the compliance officer holds a closing conference
with the employer and the employee representatives to discuss the findings. The compliance officer discusses possible courses of action an employer may take following an inspection, which could include an informal conference with OSHA or contesting citations and proposed penalties. The compliance officer also discusses consultation and employee rights.
OSHA must issue a citation and proposed penalty within six months of the violation’s occurrence. Citations describe OSHA requirements allegedly violated, list any proposed penalties and give a deadline for correcting the alleged hazards. Violations are categorized as other-than-serious, serious, willful, repeated and failure to abate. Penalties may range up to $7,000 for each serious violation and up to $70,000 for each willful or repeated violation. Penalties may be reduced based on an employer’s good faith, inspection history, and size of business. For serious violations, OSHA may also reduce the proposed penalty based on the gravity of the alleged violation. No good faith adjustment will be made for alleged willful violations.
When OSHA issues a citation to an employer, it also offers the employer an opportunity for an informal conference with the OSHA Area Director to discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates or any other information pertinent to the inspection. The agency and the employer may work out a
settlement agreement to resolve the matter and to eliminate the hazard. OSHA’s primary goal is correcting hazards and maintaining compliance rather than issuing citations or collecting penalties.
Alternatively, employers have 15 working days after receipt of citations and proposed penalties to formally contest the alleged violations and/or penalties by sending a written notice to the Area Director. OSHA forwards the contest to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for independent review. Alternatively, citations, penalties and abatement dates that are not challenged by the employer or settled become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
National Safety Compliance has developed a free training program to help employers learn more about OSHA. Please follow this link for more information:
Free Introduction to OSHA Training DVD and Workbook