It’s a daunting thought: facing an unexpected OSHA inspection at your business. You think you’re compliant — but are you sure? While it’s always unsettling, having a government official examine your work environment, you can prepare yourself by learning more about both the inspection process and your rights as a business owner. Here are seven things you may not have known about OSHA inspections.
OSHA Conducts 35,000 Inspections per Year
Throughout the year, OSHA conducts approximately 35,000 federally mandated inspections. This number jumps to 60,000 in states with approved OSHA state plans. And, given the recent proposed increase to the OSHA budget that is likely to come into effect for the 2023 fiscal year, it’s reasonable to assume this number will continue to rise. It’s also important to remember that most of these inspections are done without notification — in other words, most OSHA inspectors are unexpected guests when they come knocking at your door!
Very Few OSHA Inspections Find 0 Violations
First of all, a majority of all OSHA inspections are conducted for a reason: continued negligence, employee complaints, recent injuries and/or fatalities, or simply a focus on a particular industry or violation. Still, just about every inspection reveals at least one violation: very few OSHA inspections come away entirely clean, without a single noted issue. OSHA officials, as you might imagine, are extraordinarily diligent, meaning preparation and mindfulness on your part are equally crucial.
OSHA Inspections Can Take up to 6 Months to Complete
Before you conduct a walk-through of your facility with your OSHA inspector, he or she will have an “informal” conference in which they will give you some details on the inspection process. Typically, they will tell you if the inspection is going to be partial or comprehensive. The partial inspections tend to focus on a particular area of concern, while the comprehensive inspections are a more thorough review of your entire facility’s safety procedures. These more comprehensive inspections can take as much as six months if there are multiple areas of concern or numerous facility locations to inspect.
OSHA Inspector Can Expand Inspection During Walk-Through
Let’s say the OSHA official has deemed your inspection “partial” before you start your walk-through. As you begin your examination of your various work areas, the OSHA official notes a number of potential areas of concern — in this case, the inspector is allowed to “upgrade” the inspection from partial to comprehensive. Simply observing an unexpected violation or two could trigger this upgrade, yet another reason to know all of the applicable OSHA regulations for your industry and adhere to them with the strictest organizational policies!
OSHA Has 6 Months to Send Official Citation List
After your walk-through is complete, you’ll have a brief conference with your OSHA official who will provide you with a list of potential violations. But this is not the final citation list — OSHA has six months to review all the data before sending you an official list that includes all violations and the corresponding financial penalties.
OSHA Penalties Have Increased 80% Since 2015
OSHA penalties have always been substantial — but they’ve increased, on average, 80% since 2015. There are a total of seven different violation categories, and they range in severity of punishment ranging from $14,000 up to $145,000 for willful or repeated violations. Of course, OSHA does, luckily, factor in the business size and history of violations when determining financial penalties. Also, please note that these financial penalties are not private: they are a matter of public record.
Employers Have Three Choices After Receiving Citation List
After receiving the official list of violations and corresponding penalties from OSHA, your organization has three choices on how proceed.
- ACCEPT THE PENALTIES: In choosing this option, you are accepting the violations and penalties as outlined by OSHA. You must inform OSHA of your acceptance in writing, determine how you will pay the fines, and correct any outstanding safety violations. You must also post the citation in the work area in which it occurred for three days or until the unsafe conditions are corrected (whichever is longer).
- CONTEST THE OUTCOME: You may choose to contest a number of elements of your OSHA violation list: the citation itself, the corresponding financial penalty, or the abatement period (how much time you are given to correct the violation). You must inform OSHA of this action within fifteen days.
- REQUEST A CONFERENCE: Finally, you may request a conference with your OSHA Area Director. This is an “informal” process in which you sit down with the official and discuss your concerns. This is often a smart course of action, as OSHA does not typically want an appeals process, and they may work with you on an alternative solution. Please note that requesting a conference does not extend the 15-day period set for contesting the outcome of your OSHA inspection.
In the end, nothing can help you prepare for an OSHA inspection more than simply being diligent, safe, and compliant at all times. Conduct regular hazard inspections and safety audits of your work environment; provide thorough, ongoing training to all employees; keep thoughtful and complete records, including implementing official safety plans and documenting any issues and/or injuries; and perform informal self-inspections to keep yourself from being cited for any violations.
Learn more about OSHA inspections here.