When will you become the target of an OSHA inspection?

Author: Tim Fagan, Senior Legal Editor

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates over 8 million worksites employing approximately 130 million workers throughout the United States. Each of these worksites must comply with a multitude of regulations and standards enforced by OSHA designed to help employers and workers reduce on-the-job hazards and prevent injuries, illnesses, and deaths in the workplace. With so many facilities under OSHA’s jurisdiction, how can you know when to expect the agency to show up for an inspection of your facility?

Identifying OSHA Inspection Targets

Given OSHA’s limited number of inspectors in relation to the number of facilities that need to be inspected, OSHA prioritizes its inspection resources as follows to ensure the most hazardous workplaces take precedence.

Imminent-danger situations

Imminent-danger situations involve hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm. No matter how OSHA becomes aware of these situations, whether by an anonymous tip or an inspector witnessing it as they drive by, they will receive top priority and result in a visit from OSHA. Such situations will require immediate corrective action, or the OSHA inspector will remove endangered employees.

Severe injuries and illnesses

Employers are required to report to OSHA all work-related fatalities within 8 hours and all work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, or losses of an eye within 24 hours. Reporting such an incident does not automatically trigger an inspection, but based on the severity of the incident and other specified criteria, OSHA will either conduct an on-site investigation or initiate a Rapid Response Investigation (RRI). An RRI requires the employer to conduct its own root cause analysis and submit evidence of corrective actions. However, employers that do not handle an RRI properly can trigger an on-site OSHA inspection.

Worker complaints

Allegations of hazards or violations from workers receive high priority, but not all complaints lead to OSHA inspections. Depending on the source, the perceived gravity of the matter, and whether the allegations were formalized by signature, OSHA may choose to initiate an inspection or notify the employer of the complaint in writing. If the employer is cooperative and OSHA is satisfied with the employer’s response, an inspection may be avoided.


A referral from another federal, state, or local agency, or from an individual, an organization, or the media that alleges workplace hazards may trigger an OSHA inspection. Like complaints, referrals do not always result in an on-site inspection.

Targeted inspections

Targeted inspections typically make up just under half of all OSHA inspections. They are aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses. Regional OSHA offices often use the agency’s emphasis programs to identify and prioritize what facilities to inspect within their jurisdiction, as national, regional, and local emphasis programs (NEPs, REPs, and LEPs, respectively) typically focus on a specific industry, work activity, substance or chemical exposure, type of workplace operation, hazard, type of equipment, or OSHA standard.

Follow-up inspections

In some cases, OSHA may conduct a follow-up inspection to verify that a previously cited employer has corrected hazardous conditions.

Be Prepared for OSHA Inspections

Many factors determine what worksites OSHA inspects and when it will get to your facility. So, it is best to always be prepared and have a plan for the day an inspector does arrive:

  • Identify what personnel will be part of the inspection.
  • Strategize how you will respond to the inspector’s questions. This may require proactively meeting with the legal department to clarify how to respond to various types of inquiries.
  • Document all aspects of the inspection, including duplicating any samples collected by the inspector.
  • Ensure that written safety plans and programs, injury and illness records, training records, and other documentation are well organized and readily available.
  • Be ready to act to abate any violation identified during the inspection.

It’s hard to say for certain when an OSHA inspector will knock on your door, but recognizing OSHA’s inspection targets and always being prepared will help you successfully navigate the inspection when that day finally arrives.