What Happens During an OSHA Inspection?

OSHA Inspection Image

In recent articles, we’ve listed 6 Common Triggers of an OSHA Inspection and 10 Hazards OSHA Inspectors Commonly Look For, and both articles drew a lot of reader attention.

As a result, in this article we’re going to explain what typically happens during an OSHA inspection. And in the future, look for another article on how to prepare for an OSHA inspection.

With that intro down, let’s learn more about exactly what you can expect to happen when an OSHA inspector shows up at your worksite.

Please note: we’ve included a free guide to OSHA Inspections at the bottom of this article for you! 

What to Expect During an OSHA Inspection of Your Workplace

We’ve explained the basics of what to expect during an OSHA inspection below. The information in this article is drawn from the OSHA “OSHA Inspections” Fact Sheet and from The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s The OSHA Inspection: A Step-by-Step Guide. We’ve distilled that information for you here, but of course it’s always great to go back to the source and to do additional research about OSHA inspections as well.

Requesting an Inspection

There’s probably enough concern about OSHA performing inspections for their own reasons that some companies may not know or simply forget that employers can also request a voluntary OSHA inspection and that these can be very helpful to the employer.

See this OSHA website on OSHA Onsite Consultations for this on this, and watch for a future article on this topic here as well.

The Pre-Inspection Preparation

OSHA inspectors do their homework before they show up at your site for an inspection. This includes researching the inspection history of your worksite, reviewing the operations and processes you use and the standards most likely to apply in your workplace. They even gather up PPE and testing equipment they expect to need at your site.

Advanced Noticed of Inspection (Not Likely)

OSHA rarely gives employers advance notice of an inspection. In fact, in many case it’s a crime for an OSHA employer to give an employer advance notice of an upcoming OSHA inspection.

There are four exceptions to this, in which OSHA will give employers advance notice of an upcoming inspection:

  • In cases of imminent danger, with the hope that management will fix the condition immediately
  • When the inspection must occur after regular business hours or when special preparations are required
  • If it’s not likely that management and worker representatives will be on-site during the inspection unless advance notice is given
  • If there are other circumstances that cause the OSHA Area Director to think advance notification would lead to a more complete inspection (such as in the event of a fatality investigation)

Arrival & Presentation of Credentials

When the OSHA compliance officer arrives, he or she will provide credentials so you’ll know it’s really an OSHA rep.

Those credentials will include:

  • Photograph
  • Serial number

The Opening Conference

Your OSHA inspection will begin with an opening conference.

During the opening conference, the OSHA compliance officer will explain why your workplace is being inspected and will explain what will happen during the inspection, including walkaround procedures, employee representation, and employee interviews.

During the inspection, the employer will select a representative to accompany the OSHA compliance officer during the inspection. An authorized representative of the employees also has the right to go along during the walkaround.

During the inspection itself, the OSHA compliance officer will consult privately with a number of employees, whether the compliance officer is accompanied by an authorized representative of the employees or not.

The Walk Around

During the walk around, the OSHA compliance officer, the employer representative, and any employee representative (if applicable) will walk through the parts of your workplace covered by the inspection.

During the walk around, the compliance officer will inspect for hazards that could cause injury or illness to employees. In doing so, there may be times the OSHA compliance officer points out hazards that can be corrected immediately. You’ll still get a citation for these (the law requires it), but it’s still in your best interest to address and control the hazard because it is evidence of good faith on your behalf.

The OSHA compliance officer will make every reasonable effort to minimize work interruptions during the walk around and, if they observe any trade secrets, will keep them confidential.

It’s also worth knowing that during the walk around, the OSHA compliance officer will review your worksite injury and illness records (have them readily available) and your training records and will check to see that the OSHA poster is posted.

The Closing Conference

After the walk around, the OSHA compliance officer will wrap things up in a closing conference with both the employer and the employer representative to explain his or her findings.

During this closing conference, the compliance officer will discuss some follow-up actions for the employer to take after the inspection. These actions might include an informal conference with OSHA or something like having the employer contest citations and proposed penalties.

In addition, the compliance officer will discuss OSHA consultation services (mentioned earlier) and employee rights.

Inspection Results

If there are violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards discovered during the inspection, OSHA may issue citations and fines.

A citation will describe the OSHA requirements allegedly violated, list any proposed penalties, and will give a deadline for correcting the alleged hazards. The violations will be categorized as either:

  • Willful
  • Serious
  • Other-than-serious
  • De minimis
  • Failure to abate
  • Repeated

If OSHA is going to issue a citation and penalty, they must do so within six months of the violation’s occurrence. OSHA’s policy when settling penalties is to try to reduce penalties for smaller employers and employers who demonstrate good faith in trying to comply and create a safer workplace. The exception to this is that OSHA will offer no good faith adjustments for alleged willful violations.

You can find more information about OSHA penalty ranges here.

Informal Conference and Inspection Appeals

If citations and/or penalties have been issued as a result of the OSHA inspection, the employer is offered an opportunity for an informal conference with the OSHA Area Director. During this conference, the two parties can discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates, and other things relevant to the inspection.

Remember, OSHA’s primary goal is to correct hazards and maintain compliance, not to issue citations and collect penalties, so you may find that they’ll work with you in these instances.

On the flip side, you DO have the right to formally contest any alleged violations and/or penalties. To do so, you’ll need to send a written notice to the OSHA Area Director within 15 working days of receipt of your citations and proposed penalties.

Any citation, penalties, and abatement date that’s not challenged by the employer or settled become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


Don’t think that just because you’ve been inspected once by OSHA that you’ll never be inspected again.

In fact, if OSHA witnessed hazards and issued citations, especially more serious citations, that increases the chances that they’ll come back to make sure you’ve corrected the hazards (see our Six Common Triggers for an OSHA Inspection article for more on this).

Conclusion: What Happens During a Typical OSHA Workplace Inspection

There you have it, the basic steps of an OSHA inspection. We hope this makes the OSHA worksite inspection process easier for you to understand.

Since you’re reading this article, you may also be interested in the following OSHA-related articles:

And don’t forget to download the free guide to OSHA Inspections below before you leave!


Free Download–Guide to OSHA Inspections

Download this free guide to OSHA workplace inspections.

Download Free Guide

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 25 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center and an Instructional Design certification from the Association of Talent Development (ATD), and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training. Jeff frequently writes for magazines related to safety, safety training, and training and frequently speaks at conferences on the same issues, including the Washington Governor's Safety and Health Conference, the Oregon Governor's Occupational Safety and Health Conference, the Wisconsin Safety Conference, the MSHA Training Resources Applied to Mining (TRAM) Conference, and others.

2 thoughts on “What Happens During an OSHA Inspection?

  1. A very good article for general industry practices but does not address construction OSHA/IOHA inspection format which differs slightly from the stated script inspection practices. Most construction activities occur away from the employers primary place of business, hence the employer must designate a safety representative that can accompany the inspector during the work area walk-thru. In most cases the employer is given a heads up that an OSHA/IOSHA inspector has come on site with the intent of a work site inspection during this initial meeting with the construction site manager (either a Construction Manager, General Contractor or prime contractor that has control of work activities. The controlling party them must communicate the intent of inspection to the foreman or lead mam of each subcontractor working on site so that they can contact their employers in the event that they would like to come and join the walk-thru the construction job site. The comments concerning the inspectors credentials are particularly important in general industry inspections and should always be checked. For the most part any competent safety manager will know his local OSHA/IOSHA inspector so when the inspectors name is given during the initial conference he will generally know the inspector (this is especially true of the company’s work activities are restricted to a specific geographical area). We have seen as many as five OSHA/IOSHA inspections on our job sites within a 12 month period since we work multiple construction job sites and the likelihood of an inspection increases especially when work activities take place on high profile or large dollar construction sites…. All other OSHA inspection guidelines are pretty much right on target. The closing conference would be conducted with each individual company represented on the construction work site with potential infractions sited and the inspector going over the results of the inspection with the promise of a Notice Letter forthcoming…in many cases these are letters of compliance rather than letters of Citation…but either letter will be forthcoming.

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