Types of OSHA Inspections

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OSHA sends inspectors to work sites for different reasons. Where OSHA compliance officers believe there is imminent danger, they inspect. OSHA responds to worker complaints, serious accidents and fatalities with inspection. OSHA employs programmed inspections, or visits to unusually hazardous facilities, to catch violations. An inspection that turns up violations may be followed by a re-inspection.

Imminent Danger

Where an OSHA officer is reasonably sure there is danger that is likely to cause death or serious injury before usual OSHA procedures can be followed, the officer contacts the employer to ask him to voluntarily eliminate the danger or remove employees from it. If the employer refuses, OSHA applies to a federal district court for civil action to eliminate the danger. Even if the employer complies, OSHA may issue citations and will re-inspect the facility within a predetermined number of days.


OSHA investigates workplace accidents that cause death or serious injury. An inspection is central to the investigation. The goal of this type of inspection is to determine whether the death was caused or contributed to by an OSHA violation. OSHA directive CPL 02-00-137 outlines procedures for this type of inspection. The inspection must be done as soon as the injury-causing hazard has been removed or contained; OSHA recommends inspection within one business day. The inspector interviews supervisors, employees, first responders and law enforcement officers. Site conditions and interviews are typically video recorded. OSHA officers return to the site with transcriptions of the interviews; interviewees are asked to review and sign them.

Employee Complaint

An employee who thinks his or her employer is violating an OSHA standard can contact OSHA to request an inspection. The complaint must offer particular details surrounding the alleged violation and must be signed by the employee who brings the complaint. The employee may ask to have his name withheld from the employer. If an OSHA officer believes there is a violation, he conducts an inspection. The inspection is not limited to the employee complaint; the officer may inspect areas of the workplace that are not mentioned in the complaint.


OSHA inspects inherently hazardous workplaces as part of its ongoing effort to reduce the levels of hazard associated with certain industries. OSHA selects work sites for inspection based on the number of lost-time accidents reported, fatalities caused by violations and dangers associated with the work being done at that site.


After violations are found at an industrial facility, OSHA notifies the employer of violations and allows the employer time to correct the problems. An employer may contest violations. OSHA will consider the employer's point of view and respond. OSHA will either uphold the citation or make appropriate arrangements with the employer. If OSHA upholds the citation, an officer conducts a follow-up inspection to see that violations have been corrected.

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