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
OSHA conducts inspections without advance notice. Employers have the right to
require compliance officers to obtain an inspection warrant before
entering the work site.
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:
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.
Severe injuries and illnesses—employers
work-related fatalities within 8 hours.
work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, or losses of an eye
within 24 hours.
Worker Complaints—allegations of
hazards or violations also receive a high priority. Employees may request
anonymity when they file complaints.
Referrals of hazards from other
federal, state or local agencies, individuals, organizations or the media
receive consideration for inspection.
aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have
experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses also receive priority.
Follow-up inspections—checks for
abatement of violations cited during previous inspections are also conducted by
the agency in certain circumstances.
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 is 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 on-site 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 the posting of the official OSHA
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
Closing Conference—After the walkaround, 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 services and employee
When an inspector finds violations of
OSHA standards or serious hazards, OSHA may issue citations and fines. 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 willful, serious, other-than-serious,
de minimis, failure to abate, and
repeated. In settling a penalty, OSHA has a policy of reducing penalties for
small employers and those acting in good faith. 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. For information on penalty ranges, see
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.
This is one in a series of informational fact sheets highlighting OSHA
programs, policies or standards. It does not impose any new compliance
requirements. For a comprehensive list of compliance requirements of OSHA
standards or regulations, refer to Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
This information will be made available to sensory-impaired individuals upon
request. The voice phone is (202) 693-1999; teletypewriter (TTY) number: (877)