It would impossible for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to inspect every place of business to ensure that safety standards are being met. With 2,200 inspectors responsible for more than 8 million worksites, there simply isn’t the time or manpower.
So how does OSHA determine which worksites to inspect? Today, more and more OSHA inspections are being conducted due to employee complaints. In 2014, 27 percent of inspections were the result of employee complaints, up from 20 to 24 percent in previous years. And that number is expected to rise. OSHA has said that it believes the number of employee complaints is on the rise due to its direct outreach to employees.
Other than employee complaints, most worksite inspections are triggered by one of the following:
- Imminent Dangers: Conducted within 24 hours of a safety incident, these investigations are prompted by conditions or practices that are thought to be likely to cause death or serious harm before enforcement action can be taken.
- Fatality and Catastrophe Investigations: Work-related accidents that result in a single fatality or hospitalization of three or more employees.
- Programmed Inspections: Inspections that are regularly scheduled in high-hazard industries.
- Follow-Up Inspections: These inspections are conducted to determine if an employer has corrected previous violations.
So what happens during an inspection? When an OSHA safety compliance officer arrives for an inspection, the business does not have to allow entry without a warrant from a judge. If a business decides not to request a warrant it is voluntarily consenting to inspection. Most inspections occur without any advance notice.
The OSHA inspector completes a walk around tour of the worksite. An employer or employer representative of the company may accompany the inspector. The inspector may also conduct private interviews with employees.
The inspector will have a closing conference with the company and employee representatives at the end of the inspection. OSHA will discuss any clear violations and suggest ways to correct these violations. He or she also will discuss any deadlines and possible fines. In some cases a second closing conference may be necessary.
Citations are only issued to employers, even if violations were committed or caused by an employee. Once a citation is issued a business owner has the option to do one of the following:
- Contest the citation
- Correct the violation and pay any penalties.
- Negotiate with OSHA to have the penalty amended or withdrawn
The purpose of OSHA is to provide safe and healthy workplaces. Inspections are just one of the many ways they are able to fulfill this purpose.