OSHA Inspection Process: What Happens During an OSHA Inspection?

what happens during an osha inspection?

What Triggers an OSHA Visit?

Well, it depends.

There are two kinds of OSHA visits: inspections and onsite consultations.

What is an OSHA Onsite Consultation, and How Does It Work?

An OSHA onsite consultation is a voluntary OSHA inspection, but it's conducted as a service in good faith. The visit is very similar in structure and content to an inspection, but no citations will be issued, and no penalties will be imposed.

Employers can request an OSHA onsite consultation if they have no outstanding problems with OSHA, like unresolved citations.

The employer must correct all serious hazards found during a consultation within an agreed-upon time frame. However, hazards won't be reported to OSHA enforcement unless there is an imminent danger or serious hazard that the employer fails to correct promptly.

Consultations don't guarantee you'll pass an OSHA inspection, but they certainly arm you with information, and you could qualify for a one-year exemption to routine OSHA inspections.

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What is an OSHA Inspection, and Why Does It Happen?

In contrast to OSHA onsite consultations, OSHA inspection visits are geared toward enforcement. Inspectors (called compliance safety and health officers) usually shows up unexpectedly – either due to a tip that there's a problem or because a worksite has been chosen for a routine visit.

There are 6 reasons for an OSHA inspection.

Imminent Danger Inspections

If OSHA hears that working conditions threaten immediate death or serious harm, they visit asap – usually the same day. Imminent danger inspections are the highest priority for enforcement visits.

If OSHA finds an imminent danger that the employer can't remove immediately, employers have to remove all employees at risk of injury. If the employer refuses, OSHA might request an injunction prohibiting work from continuing. Still, at the very least, the compliance officer will notify employees of the danger and explain their right to refuse work that puts them at immediate risk.

Reported Injuries and Illnesses

OSHA requires employers to report serious work-related injuries and illnesses to them promptly. That includes:

  • Deaths within 8 hours
  • Injuries and illnesses within 24 hours if they result in:
    • Inpatient hospitalization
    • Amputation
    • Loss of an eye

Any of these incidents will prompt an OSHA visit and many questions. These inspections are the second-highest priority so they can ensure that the unsafe working conditions that resulted in injury have been fixed. Workers are no longer in immediate danger.

Worker Complaints

If you believe that OSHA standards are being violated in your workplace or that unsafe conditions exist, you can file a complaint with OSHA (and you can do so anonymously).

First, you should try to handle things directly with your employer – if they retaliate against you in any way, OSHA will enforce whistleblower protections.

When OSHA receives a worker complaint, their first step – as long as it doesn't indicate immediate danger – will be to ask questions of your employer through a phone/fax investigation. It's a more efficient use of their resources, but you have the right to request an OSHA visit.

Referrals from Other Entities

In addition to anonymous or worker complaints, OSHA will investigate if they receive a referral from another government agency or an interested individual or organization (like the media).

Targeted Inspections

OSHA prioritizes inspections triggered by a sign that something is wrong – because there's been an incident or someone has reported something suspicious.

However, they also perform a certain number of "routine" annual inspections. Typically, these are randomly chosen from high-hazard industries. But if you have a history of safety violations or an unusual number of injuries and illnesses in the past, you're more likely to get a visit.

Follow-up Inspections

If OSHA has visited recently and conditions forced them to issue one or more citations, you're guaranteed to receive another visit. They'll want to make sure you've fixed the problem.

What Happens During an OSHA Inspection?

There are three parts to an OSHA inspection: the opening conference, the walkaround, and the closing conference.

The OSHA inspection process begins with a brief meeting known as the opening conference. The inspector meets with the ranking on-site manager and any other interested parties. The compliance officer will present their credentials and explain the purpose and scope of that day's visit.

For example, they'll tell you why your facility was chosen for an OSHA visit and whether the inspection will be comprehensive or targeted to a particular issue.

The bulk of most OSHA inspections consists of the walkaround. The inspector will tour the facility, observe working conditions, ask questions, and interview workers. They look for hazards and standard violations, take notes, and document what they see with photos.

They will also ask to see the required records and examine them for red flags and irregularities.

The final step in the OSHA inspection process is the closing conference. If any hazards or violations have been found, the inspector will discuss their findings and explain citations, fines, ways to fix each problem, and deadlines.

How Long Does an OSHA Inspection Take?

It depends on the size of the worksite and the scope of the inspection. Small facilities can be a one-day affair, but large, complex worksites can take a few weeks.

What Are Your Rights During an OSHA Inspection?

During an OSHA inspection, you have the right to accompany the compliance officer throughout the visit – this is true for both the employer and an authorized workforce representative.

Employers have the right to require an inspection warrant before an OSHA visit and the right to appeal or contest any violations or penalties that have been issued within 15 working days of receipt.

During an OSHA visit, any worker has the right to speak to the compliance officer and be protected from retaliation.

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