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Navigate Your Way Safely Through the Inspection/Enforcement Process

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Here’s some information about inspections and enforcement actions that can help you successfully navigate your way around big problems and costly penalties.

Since OSHA can’t inspect all 7 million workplaces it covers each year, it seeks to focuses its inspection resources on the most hazardous workplaces in the following order of priority:

  1. Imminent danger situations—hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm— receive top priority. Compliance officers will ask employers to correct these hazards immediately— or remove endangered employees.
  2. Fatalities and catastrophes—incidents that involve a death or the hospitalization of three or more employees—come next. Employers must report such catastrophes to OSHA within 8 hours.
  3. Complaints—allegations of hazards or violations also receive a high priority. Employees may request anonymity when they file complaints.
  4. Referrals—hazard information from other federal, state or local agencies, individuals, organizations or the media receive consideration for inspection.
  5. Follow-ups—checks for abatement of violations cited during previous inspections—are also conducted by the agency in certain circumstances.
  6. Planned or programmed investigations—inspections aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses—also receive priority.

Phone/Fax Investigations

For lower-priority hazards, with permission of a complainant, OSHA may telephone the employer to describe safety and health concerns, following up with a fax providing details on alleged safety and health hazards.

The employer must respond in writing within 5 working days, identifying any problems found and noting corrective actions taken or planned.

If the response is adequate and the complainant satisfied with the response, OSHA generally will not conduct an on-site inspection.


If OSHA finds through the inspection process that violations have occurred, it must issue a citation and proposed penalty within 6 months of the violation’s occurrence.

When a citation is issued, OSHA offers the employer an opportunity for an informal conference with the OSHA Area Director to discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates or any other information pertinent to the inspection. The agency and the employer may work out a settlement agreement to resolve the matter and to eliminate the hazard.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to settle, you have 15 working days after receipt of citations and proposed penalties to formally contest the alleged violations and/or penalties by sending a written notice to the Area Director. OSHA forwards the contest to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for independent review.

Citations, penalties, and abatement dates that are not challenged by the employer or settled become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Get Ready for GHS

There have been a number of huge changes to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) recently—many relating to the new United Nations Global Harmonization Standard (GHS).

The changes are sweeping, and the ramifications far-reaching, for all companies that must comply with HCS. This is the year you’ll need to train employees on how to read and understand GHS formatted safety data sheets (SDSs) and labels—so now is the time to lay the groundwork for compliance.