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What Happens During an OSHA Inspection?

osha inspection

Workers are entitled to safe and healthy working conditions, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with establishing and enforcing rules that ensure this.  OSHA regularly carries out remote inquiries and on-site inspections – usually without warning.  Non-compliant employers can face fines and penalties, so it’s essential to be prepared and ready to pass an inspection at any time.

osha inspection

What prompts an OSHA inspection?

The Administration looks to address the most hazardous issues first.  Priority is given as follows:

  1. Imminent danger situations—where there is a threat of death or serious physical harm, inspections are performed within 24 hours. Employers will be asked to rectify violations immediately or remove endangered employees.
  2. Severe injuries and illnesses—employers are required to report on all work-related fatalities and any inpatient hospitalizations of three or more employees. Such reports can result in an OSHA inspection.
  3. Complaints and referrals —any allegations of violations by employees (who may remain anonymous) or referrals from other individuals, agencies, organizations, or the media will be considered with a view to undertaking an inspection.
  4. Planned/targeted inspections—high-hazard industries are routinely inspected.

What can you expect if you’re inspected?

Inspections are carried out by OSHA compliance officers(or state officers in states that have their own plans.)  Inspections must take place at a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner to avoid disrupting operations.

Telephone inquiry

When complainants give permission, lower-priority hazards may be handled via telephone.  The employer will be asked to describe safety and health concerns, and to follow up in writing with a description of corrective actions taken.  If the OSHA compliance officer is satisfied, an on-site inspection can be avoided.

On-site arrival

On arrival at the site, officers must present their credentials, which include a photograph and serial number. The compliance officer must give the reason for and scope of the inspection.  Inspection procedures, employee representation/interviews need to be explained. The employer then appoints a representative to accompany the officer during the inspection.  An authorized representative of the employees may also choose to join them.

Note:  An employer has the right to demand that a warrant is obtained for an inspection, and to disallow inspection outside of the specified scope.  Failure to deny access to the inspectors is regarded as consent.


The compliance officer and the representatives will physically inspect the specified hazard areas, review injury and illness records, and check the official OSHA poster is appropriately displayed.

Closing Conference

The officer discusses findings and possible courses of action in a closing conference with the employer and the employee representatives.  The officer will also review applicable consultation services and employee rights.

What happens if you’re non-compliant?

OSHA issues a citation for each violation observed, which will give you a deadline for correction and notify you of proposed penalties.  Citations are issued to the employer, even if an employee caused the violation.  On receipt of a citation you can:

  • correct the violation and pay the penalties, or
  • negotiate to have the citation or penalties amended or withdrawn, or
  • contest the citation before the Review Commission

Before deciding, you may request an informal conference with the OSHA Area Director.  OSHA settles most cases, and will only resort to shutting down a business and pursuing litigation in the most egregious cases.  In instances where it is not possible to correct the condition, a variance can be granted on application.

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