OSHA Inspection Tips & Guide
Written by Steve Hudgik
What is the chance you'll be inspected by OSHA? OSHA has about 1,200 inspectors and there are over 11 million workplaces. OSHA cannot be everywhere and inspect every workplace. So they prioritize their inspections to focus on the most hazardous workplaces. You should be aware of how OSHA selects workplaces to be inspected. While you should not assume your workplace will not be inspected if it is not in one of these priority categories, the possibility of an OSHA inspection is less. Here is the list of OSHA inspection priorities:
- Imminent danger situations - a workplace with hazards that could cause death or serious physical injury are OSHA's top receive top priority. OSHA inspections targets these workplaces and OSHA will require that the hazards be corrected immediately or that endangered employees no longer work in the areas where hazards exist.
- Fatalities and catastrophes - workplaces where there has been a death or the hospitalization of three or more employees is next on the OSHA priority list. Employers must report these to OSHA within eight hours and OSHA typically will quickly schedule inspections.
- Complaints - when OSHA receives a claim there hazards or violations of OSHA standards exist in a workplace, that workplace will have a high priority for an OSHA inspection.
- Referrals - if OSHA receives a referral about workplace hazards from other federal, state or local agencies, or from individuals, organizations or the media, that workplace has a higher priority for an inspection.
- Follow-ups - OSHA frequently schedules inspections to follow-up on previous inspections. The purpose is to check on the abatement of the violations cited during the previous inspections.
- Planned or programmed investigations - some OSHA inspections are targeted at certain high-hazard industries or at individual workplaces that have shown high rates of injuries and illnesses.
OSHA Inspections - Phone/Fax Investigations
An OSHA inspection does not always mean a visit from an OSHA inspector. For lower-priority hazards, with permission of the person or organization making the complaint, OSHA may conduct a telephone investigation. In the phone call the OSHA inspector will describe the safety and health concerns. They will follow up the phone conversation with a fax providing the details of the alleged safety and health hazards. The employer must respond in writing within five working days, identifying any problems found and noting the corrective actions taken or planned. If the response is adequate and the person filing the complainant is satisfied with the response, OSHA typically will not conduct an on-site inspection.
On-Site OSHA Inspections
Should OSHA determine an on-site inspection is needed, the on-site OSHA inspection will be conducted in accordance with the OSHA Field Inspection Reference Manual. A copy of this manual is available online [http://www.osha.gov/Firm_osha_toc/Firm_toc_by_sect.html].
OSHA Inspection Results
If the OSHA inspection reveals a violation of OSHA standards or a safety hazard, OSHA will issue a citation and proposed penalty within six months of the violation's occurrence.
An OSHA citation describes the OSHA requirements that were allegedly violated, lists the proposed penalties, and gives a deadline for correcting the alleged hazards. Violations are categorized as:
- Failure to abate.
Penalties may be as high as $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, their inspection history, and on the size of business. For serious violations, OSHA may also reduce the proposed penalty based on the gravity of the alleged violation.
OSHA Inspection Results - Appeals
When OSHA issues a citation to an employer, it offers the employer an opportunity to have an informal conference with the OSHA Area Director to discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates or any other information pertinent to the inspection. At that point they may work out a settlement agreement to resolve the matter and to eliminate the hazard.
OSHA's primary goal is that hazards be corrected and that employers be in compliance with OSHA standards rather than issuing citations or collecting penalties.
If a solution is not arrived at in the conference, employers have 15 working days after the receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to formally contest the alleged violations or penalties. This is done by sending a written notice to the OSHA Area Director. OSHA will forward the contest to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) for consideration. Citations, penalties and abatement dates that are not challenged by the employer or settled become a final when the OSHRC issues their ruling.