Inspections and Citations

OSHA enforces its standards through inspections and (if necessary) citations. The inspection is almost always unannounced. OSHA may not conduct warrant less inspections without an employer’s consent. However, it may inspect after acquiring an authorized search warrant or its equivalent. Like many government agencies. OSHA has wide ranging compliance responsibilities but relatively limited funds. As a result, OSHA is trying to encourage cooperative safety programs rather than relying just on inspections and citations.

Inspection priorities

Such efforts notwithstanding OSHA does of course still make extensive. OSHA takes a worst first approach in setting inspection. Priorities include from highest to lowest , reports of imminent dangers accidents about a happen, fatalities or accidents serious enough to send three or more workers to the hospital employee complaints referrals from other government agencies, targeted inspections such as on employees that report high injury and illness rates; and finally follow up inspections. In one recent year OSHA conducted just over 39,000 inspections. Of these about 9,200 were prompted by complaints or accidents about 21,500 were high hazard targeted and about 8,400 were prompted by follow up and referrals. Random inspections and re-inspections generally have last priority.

Under its priority system, OSHA conducts an inspection within 24 hours when a complaint indicates an immediate danger and within three working days when a serious hazard exists. For a non serious complaints filed in writing by a worker or a union OSHA will respond within 20 working days OSHA handles other non serious complaints by writing to the employer and requesting corrective action.

The Inspection

The inspection itself begins when the OSHA officer arrives at the workplace. He or she displays official credentials and asks to meet an employer representative. (Always insist on seeing the officer’s credentials, which include photography and serial number). The officer explains the visit’s purpose, the scope of the inspection and the standards that apply. An authorized employee’s representative accompanies the officer during the inspection. The inspector can also stop and question workers (in private if necessary) about safety and health conditions. The act protects each employee from discrimination for exercising his or her disclosure rights. OSHA rules require employees’ involvement in OSHA’s on site consultation and that employees be informed of the inspections results.

OSHA inspectors look for all types of violations but some potential problem areas – such as scaffolding and fall protection – seem to grab more of their attention. The five most frequent OSHA inspection violation areas are scaffolding, fall protection hazard communication lockout / tag out (electrical repairs) and respiratory problems.


Summons informing employers and employees of the regulation and standards that have been violated in the workplace.

Finally, after checking the premises and employer’s records, the inspector holds a closing conference with the employer’s representative. Here the inspector discusses apparent violations for which OSHA may issue or recommend a citation and penalty. At this point, the employer can produce records to show compliance efforts. Figure list the hazards that accounted for the greatest number of citation in one recent year. Adequate or unsafe scaffolding was the most frequently cited hazard.


OSHA can impose penalties. These generally range from $5,000 up to $70,000 for willful or repeat serious violations although in practice the penalties can be far higher – $1.5 million at the Ford Rouge plant, for instance. The parties settle many OSHA cases before litigation in pre-citation settlements. Here OSHA issues the citation and agreed on penalties simultaneously after negotiations with the employer. There is also a maximum of $7,000 a day in penalties for failure to correct a violation Other than serious violations often carry no penalties.

In general OSHA calculates penalties based on the gravity of the violation and usually takes into consideration factors like the size of the business, the firm’s compliance history, and the employer’s good faith. In practice OSHA must have a final order from the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) to enforce penalty. An employer who files a notice of contest can drag out an appeal for years. Many employers do appeal their citations, at least to the OSHA district office.