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How OSHA Decides to Inspect a Workplace

Posted on 3/17/2023 by Nick Waldron and Roger Marks

OSHA added enforcement staff and performed more than 30,000 health & safety inspections of US workplaces in FY 2022, estimates suggest. That's about 7,000 more than the agency completed in 2021, and signals a return to pre-pandemic enforcement levels after a combination of factors caused inspection numbers to plummet in 2020.

In its budget request for FY 2023, the Department of Labor stated that funding from Congress would “support OSHA’s efforts to double the number of inspectors” by January 2025.

How OSHA Decides to Inspect a Workplace

How OSHA Prioritizes Inspections 

Even with increased staff, OSHA can visit only a fraction of the 7 million work sites under the agency’s jurisdiction in any year. To focus energy and resources efficiently, OSHA prioritizes its efforts so that the “most hazardous” workplaces are first on the list. 

OSHA prioritizes its time and resources using a six-tiered system. 


1. Imminent danger situations.

  • An imminent danger situation is a hazard that could cause death or serious physical harm.


2. Severe injuries and illnesses. 

  • OSHA requires employers to report within 8 hours any work-related fatality and to report the most severe types of injuries or illnesses—those involving hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye—within 24 hours


3. Worker complaints. 

  • OSHA follows up on allegations by employees about hazardous conditions or OSHA violations on the job. Employees who report unsafe workplaces are treated as whistle blowers under the law; they may remain anonymous and are protected from retaliation


4. Referrals.

  • OSHA receives reports from individuals, organizations, and all levels of government agencies. A media report about unsafe working conditions could catch officials' attention as well. 


5. Targeted inspections.

  • Inspections aimed at specific high-hazard industries or workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses. OSHA relies, in part, on injury and illness data submitted by employers to target sites under this enforcement program.

More: OSHA's Site Specific Targeting (SST) Program. 


6. Follow-up inspections. 

  • OSHA will return to a workplace where they found violations to ensure the violation has been corrected since the initial (or most recent) inspection.


New Video: OSHA's Inspection Process

OSHA also recently released a video that explains the inspection process and enforcement priorities, including the list above. 


With more OSHA inspectors visiting more workplaces, and more aggressive enforcement policies in place this year, knowing how the safety agency prioritizes which establishments to visit is valuable for employers Understanding OSHA's process for determining which workplaces inspectors visit first can give employers perspective on when, and why, OSHA might come to visit.

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