The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires employers to provide a safe work environment for their workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for creating workplace safety standards and enforcing compliance with the OSH Act.
OSHA enforces compliance with the OSH Act by conducting inspections, gathering evidence and imposing penalties on noncompliant employers. OSHA penalties are civil penalties that may result in fines. However, OSHA may refer certain violations to the U.S. Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. Actual penalties imposed on an employer take into consideration the gravity of the violation, the size of the employer’s business, good faith efforts the employer makes to comply with the law and the employer’s compliance history.
Most private sector employers in the United States, the District of Columbia and other U.S. jurisdictions are subject to the OSH Act, either directly or through an OSHA-approved state program. State plans are OSHA-approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states instead of federal OSHA. The OSH Act encourages states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs. State-run safety and health programs must be at least as effective as the Federal OSHA program.
OSHA inspections are conducted by OSHA’s compliance safety and health officers. Compliance officers have authority to:
- Conduct inspections;
- Assign specialists to accompany and assist them during an inspection (as appropriate or required);
- Issue citations for noncompliance;
- Obtain court-issued inspection warrants; and
- Issue administrative subpoenas to acquire evidence related to an OSHA inspection or investigation.
Whenever possible, OSHA will assign compliance officers with appropriate security clearances to inspect facilities where materials or processes are classified by the federal government.
Here are the 5 Main Steps of Any OSHA Inspection:
Step 1: Inspection Scheduling: OSHA inspections can be either programmed or unprogrammed. Unprogrammed inspections generally take precedence over programmed ones.
Step 2: Compliance Officer Arrival: Upon arrival, a compliance officer should present his or her credentials. If necessary, employers can contact their local OSHA office to confirm a compliance officer’s authority to conduct the inspection.
Step 3: Opening Conference: In general, compliance officers will try to make the opening conference brief in order to proceed to the walk-around portion of the inspection as soon as possible.
Step 4: The Walk-Around: The walk-around is the most important stage of the inspection. Employer and employee representatives have the right to accompany compliance officers during the walk-around stage of the inspection. However, workers at an establishment without a union cannot appoint a union representative to act on their behalf during an OSHA inspection walkaround (see OSHA memo from 2017).
Step 5: The Closing Conference: As with the opening conference, unless an objection exists, the closing conference is generally a joint conference. However, the closing conference may be conducted in person or over the phone. The inspection and citation process will move forward regardless of whether employers decide to participate in the closing conference.
During this conference, employers should also request copies of recorded materials and sample analysis summaries. Finally, employers should take time to discuss their right (and the process they must follow) to appeal any possible citations.