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What to Expect During an OSHA Inspection

Posted by: admin on January 28, 2019

What to Expect During an OSHA Inspection

Most employers will never have to face an OSHA inspection. If you do, it’s important to respond in an appropriate manner. As a government agency, OSHA wields a lot of power. This includes the right to levy large fines. But you also have rights. Knowing what to do during an inspection will help protect them. It can also help avoid civil citations or possible criminal liability if there has been a fatal accident.

Know Your Rights

When an OSHA compliance officer shows up at your door to announce an inspection, you have the right to do two things. One is ask to see his or her credentials. The other is ask about the reason for the inspection.

OSHA can perform an inspection for many reasons. A worker filed a complaint about a work site hazard. An accident occurred that resulted in a fatality or three or more workers needing medical treatment. Or, the inspection may be part of an OSHA program to deal with a workplace hazard.

In any case, OSHA must have probable cause and must explain the reason for the inspection. If it involves a complaint, you are entitled to a written copy of the complaint. If the inspection has to do with an OSHA program, the officer must provide information about it.

Plan Your Response

The first step is to gather your management team to discuss:

  • Whether you should allow the inspection
  • The scope of the inspection at the site
  • Who should be on the walkaround team

OSHA must allow a “reasonable” amount of time for your team to plan its response. In return, you must let OSHA know that you intend to do it. After making a decision, let the inspector know whether you will allow the inspection. If not, OSHA will need a search warrant to proceed.

What is Probable Cause?

Before deciding whether to allow the inspection, consider whether OSHA has probable cause.

Employee Complaint

  • Is the complaint valid?
  • Does the hazard stated in the complaint exist at your worksite?
  • Is the data about the hazard correct?


  • Did the accident involve your business?
  • Are the facts of the accident listed correctly?
  • Is the scene of the accident scene intact or has it changed?

OSHA Program

  • Does your business meet the criteria for the program inspection?
  • Do you have a valid basis for challenging the inspection?

Answering these questions will help determine whether OSHA has a legal right to conduct the inspection.

What Will the Inspection Involve?

Next, decide where you will allow the inspector to go at your work site and what you will allow him or her to observe. Access should only be enough for the compliance officer to evaluate:

  • The hazards stated in the employee complaint
  • The accident site area
  • Hazards that fall within the program criteria

Otherwise, a broader inspection can put you at risk for citations that aren’t part of the probable cause.

OSHA Inspection FAQs

Do I have to provide documents to OSHA?

Yes. These can include your Federal Employer ID number, OSHA injury and illness logs, written programs, and training records.

Can I limit the scope of the inspection?

Yes. To protect your business, know the scope of the inspection. Then limit access to areas within that scope.

How does OSHA decide on the amount of a fine?

It depends on the type and severity of the violation, which can include:

  • Willful. OSHA can fine up to $129,336 for each willful violation.
  • Serious. This carries a mandatory penalty of up to $12,934.
  • Other than serious. Penalties may reach a max of $12,934.
  • Repeated. Up to $129,336 for each repeated violation.

What are my options if I receive a citation?

You can:

  • Accept the citation, correct the violation(s) and pay the penalty
  • Ask for an informal conference
  • Contest the citation (in writing)

What happens at an informal conference?

OSHA will provide an in-depth explanation of the violation, the standards cited and how to correct the violation.

Is it possible to beat an OSHA citation?

Yes. The best chance is with a worker misconduct violation. You must be able to prove:

  • A work rule was violated
  • The work rule was properly communicated
  • You actively monitor compliance to the rules
  • You took disciplinary action against the violator(s)

Avoiding Inspections

The best way to defend against OSHA inspections is to avoid them in the first place.

  • Know all OSHA rules for your type of work
  • Have a written safety plan
  • Train and certify all workers to OSHA standards
  • Document all employee violations of safety rules
  • Progressively discipline employees who break them
  • Document actions taken to remove work site hazards

If you do get inspected, know your rights. Know what OSHA expects of you. Don’t provide access or information not related to the violation. In the meantime, visit to get your staff trained and certified the fast, affordable way.

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