Preparation – Before conducting an inspection, OSHA compliance officers research the inspection history of a worksite using various data sources, review the operations and processes in use and the standards most likely to apply. They gather appropriate personal protective equipment and testing instruments to measure potential hazards.

Presentation of credentials – The on-site inspection begins with the presentation of the compliance officer’s credentials, which include both a photograph and a serial number.

Opening Conference – The compliance officer will explain why OSHA selected the workplace for inspection and describe the scope of the inspection, walk through procedures, employee representation and employee interviews. The employer then selects a representative to accompany the compliance officer during the inspection. An authorized representative of the employees, if any, also has the right to go along. In any case, the compliance officer will consult privately with a reasonable number of employees during the inspection.

The Walk through – Following the opening conference, the compliance officer, employee representative and the employer representative will walk through the portions of the workplace covered by the inspection, inspecting for hazards that could lead to employee injury or illness. The compliance officer interview employees and will also review worksite injury and illness records and the posting of the official OSHA poster.

Closing Conference – After the walk through, the compliance officer holds a closing conference with the employer and the employee representatives to discuss the findings. The compliance officer discusses possible courses of action an employer may take following an inspection, which could include an informal conference with OSHA or contesting citations and proposed penalties. The compliance officer also discusses consultation services and employee rights.

Results – When an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, OSHA may issue citations and fines. Citations describe OSHA requirements allegedly violated, list any proposed penalties and give a deadline for correcting the alleged hazards.

Appeals – When OSHA issues a citation to an employer, it also offers the employer an opportunity for an informal conference to discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates or any other information pertinent to the inspection. Employers have 15 days after receipt of citations and proposed penalties to formally contest the alleged violations and/or penalties.


As a result of inspections, OSHA may assess fines against a company, learn how fines are structured here


The OSH Act authorizes OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) to conduct non-notice workplace inspections at reasonable times. OSHA conducts inspections without advance notice, except in rare circumstances (e.g. Imminent Danger) In fact, anyone who tells an employer about an OSHA inspection in advance can receive fines and a jail term.

Inspection Priorities

OSHA cannot inspect all 7 million workplaces it covers each year so it focuses inspection resources on the most hazardous workplaces in the following order of priority:

  1. Imminent danger situations: Hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm receive top priority. Compliance officers will ask employers to correct these hazards immediately or remove endangered employees.
  2. Fatalities or hospitalizations: Employers must report work-related fatalities within 8 hours and work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, or losses of an eye within 24 hours. CSHOs gather evidence and interview the employer, workers, and others to determine the causes of the event and whether violations occurred.
  3. Worker Complaints: A worker or worker representative can file a complaint about a safety or health hazard in the workplace. Allegations of hazards or violations also receive a high priority. Employees may request anonymity when they file complaints.
  4. Referrals: Hazards are referred from other federal, state or local agencies, individuals, organizations or the media. Referrals usually are from a government agency, such as NIOSH or a local health department.
  5. Targeted inspections: These inspections are aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses.
  6. Follow-up inspections: The primary purpose of a follow-up inspection is to determine if the previously cited violations have been corrected.