OSHA Inspections and Penalties

OSHA enforces occupational safety and health regulations by inspecting workplaces, issuing citations, and imposing monetary penalties for violations of OSHA safety and health standards.

What can trigger an inspection of your business? The government's priorities for scheduling OSHA inspections are as follows:

  1. investigation of imminent dangers any conditions or practices that could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm to employees immediately or before enforcement action could be taken (These investigation are conducted within 24 hours.)
  2. fatality and catastrophe investigations any work-related incident that results in the death of an employee or the in-patient hospitalization of three or more employees (Such incidents must be reported to the nearest OSHA office by telephone or in person within eight hours of the incident.)
  3. investigations of complaints for example, complaints made by employees, and referrals
  4. programmed inspections regularly scheduled inspections in "high hazard" industries

Inspections are conducted by compliance officers, usually without advance notice. In states that have their own plans, inspections are conducted by state inspectors. Workplace inspections must be conducted at a reasonable time, generally during the employer's normal work hours, and in a reasonable manner.

When an OSHA compliance officer arrives for a workplace inspection, you have the right to deny entry and to demand that OSHA obtain a warrant to inspect the your premises. OSHA may get a warrant from a judge in a simple and speedy fashion in advance of a proposed inspection or after being denied entry. Your failure to object to the inspection or ask for a warrant constitutes voluntary consent.

Representatives of the employers and employees are entitled to accompany the OSHA inspector on the "walk around" tour of the workplace. The compliance officer may interview employees privately during the course of the inspection.

When an employer grants the inspector entry for a limited inspection, such as one responding to an employee complaint, it may object to expansion of the inspection to other areas of the workplace. If an employer allows the inspector to enter but objects to the inspection of certain portions of the workplace or interferes with or limits any important aspect of the inspection, such as the taking of photographs or videotapes, attaching sampling devices, or questioning employees, OSHA will consider this a refusal of entry.

Small business exemption. In low-risk industries, there is a small business exemption from programmed inspections only.

Businesses with 10 or fewer employees are exempted from programmed inspections, so long as they have an occupational injury lost workday rate lower than the national average, as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Save Time

To calculate your lost workday rate, divide the number of illnesses and injuries or lost workdays by the total number of hours worked by all employees for the calendar year. Multiply that number by 200,000 (the base for 100 full-time employees working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks).

The latest available figures indicate that the national occupational injury incidence rates for private industry employers with between one and 10 employees was 2.7. Employers with between 11 and 49 employees had an occupational injury incidence rate of 5.9.

However, the small business/low-hazard industry exception applies only to programmed inspections, not to inspections triggered by safety complaints, accidents involving a fatality or the hospitalization of three or more employees, or reports of imminent dangers or health hazards. A lost workday rate higher than the national average can trigger an inspection for cause.

What happens if the OSHA inspection turns up something that doesn't meet the government's standards?