The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and its state partners have approximately 2100 inspectors, along with complaint investigators, engineers, physicians, educators, standards writers, and other technical and support personnel spread over more than 200 offices throughout the country. This staff establishes protective standards for workers. In order to enforce these standards, OSHA representatives conduct workplace inspections. All work sites covered under the OSH Act are subject to inspection by OSHA compliance safety and health officers.
There are five categories of OSHA inspections:
- Imminent Danger: Imminent danger applies to conditions where there is reasonable certainty that a danger exists that has the potential to cause death or serious physical harm immediately. These inspections are given top priority and if an imminent danger situation exists, the compliance officer will ask the employer to abate the hazard and remove employees from exposure. If the employer refuses to comply, OSHA will take legal action to correct the situation.
- Catastrophic and Fatal Accidents: The investigation of fatal accidents and catastrophic accidents causing the hospitalization of three or more employees is given second priority.
- Employee Complaints: Employees have the right to request an OSHA inspection when there is a hazard or OSHA violation present in the workplace. OSHA will evaluate the problem articulated in the complaint, and if they determine that there are reasonable grounds for believing that a violation or danger exists, the office will conduct an inspection. A workers’ representative has a right to accompany an OSHA officer during the inspection. This representative must be chosen by either the union (if applicable), or by the employees. The employer may, under no circumstances, select the workers’ representative. The inspector may conduct a limited inspection focused on selective aspects or limited areas, or a comprehensive inspection of the workplace. Once the OSHA inspection has concluded, the inspector will meet with the employer and the representative appointed by the employees and discuss the abatement of any encountered hazards.
- High Hazard: OSHA has established inspection programs aimed at specific high hazard industries based on death, illness and injury rates, and employee exposure to toxic substances.
- Re-inspection: Work sites that have been cited for serious violations are re-inspected after a period of time in order to ensure that the violation has been corrected.
After an inspection takes place, the compliance officer will report his or her findings to the main office. Then, the director decides what citations will be issued and what penalties will be imposed on the employer, depending on the type of violation. Listed below are eight basic categories of violations and the penalties associated with each:
- Non-serious Violations: If a violation directly impacts job safety but is unlikely to cause death or serious injuries for workers, the maximum penalty is $7000.
- Serious Violations: If there is a high possibility that a violation could cause death or serious injury and the employer knew or should have known about the hazard, it is considered a serious violation. This includes imminent danger situations. The maximum penalty for a serious violation is $7000.
- Willful Violations: When an employer intentionally and knowingly commits a violation, it is known as a willful violation. Penalties for this type of violation can range from $5000-$70,000. If a willful violation results in the death of an employee, it is punishable by individual fines of up to $250,000 and/or 6 months in jail and corporate fines of up to $500,000.
- Repeated Violations: If, upon re-inspection, another violation of the previously cited standard, regulation, rule, or order is found, it is considered a repeated violation. This can result in fines of up to $70,000.
- Failure to Abate: Failure to correct a violation may bring penalties of up to $7000 per day for each day the violation continues to exist past the abatement date.
- Falsification Violations: If it is discovered that an employer has falsified records, reports or applications, the employer can face a fine of $10,000 and/or six months in jail upon conviction.
- Posting Violations: Violations of posting requirements can result in civil penalties of up to $7000.
- Violations Against Compliance Officers: Assaulting, resisting, opposing, intimidating or interfering with a compliance officer while the officer is carrying out his or her duties is a criminal offense. It is punishable by a fine of not more than $5000 and/or 3 years in jail.