Surviving an OSHA Inspection
How Does OSHA Decide Who to Inspect?
OSHA has about 2,200 inspectors. That includes inspectors from the 26
states that run their own state programs.
OSHA conducted just under 40,000 inspections in FY 2004. Inspectors working
for state programs conducted just under 60,000 during the same period.
That sounds like a lot. But when you consider how many workplaces there
are in the U.S. and the fact that American workers suffer approximately
5 million occupational illnesses and injuries per year, you realize that
the number of inspections is just a drop in the bucket.
Statistically, the odds that your company will undergo an OSHA inspection
are long. But all companies aren't at equal risk of an inspection. Let's
look at how OSHA decides who to inspect and you'll understand why.
OSHA's Inspection Priorities
Since OSHA can't be everywhere at once, it has established priorities
for deciding who to inspect:
1. Preventive Inspections--These are inspections responding to
reports of imminent dangers or accidents about to happen.
2. Post-Accident Inspections --These are inspections that take
place after fatalities or accidents serious enough to send at least three
workers to the hospital.
3. Post-Complaint Inspections--These are inspections that occur
after a worker or somebody else complains.
4. Referrals--These are inspections performed in response to referrals
from other government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
5. Targeted Inspections--These are inspections under programs
like the Site Specific Targeting Program which focuses on employers who
report high illness and injury rates (Editor's Note: For more about the
Program, see our interview with former OSHA director, John Henshaw in
the SafetyXChange archives), and special emphasis programs focusing on
particularly dangerous forms of work such as excavation.
6. Follow-Up Inspections--These are scheduled inspections of companies
that have already been inspected and cited for violations to ensure that
the hazards have been abated.
Determining Your Likelihood of Being Inspected
The OSHA website includes a complete report of inspections performed,
the reason the workplace was targeted, e.g., in response to a complaint,
and the type of inspection conducted. Combining this data with OSHA's
inspection priorities enables you to evaluate how likely you are to be
visited by an OSHA inspector. This evaluation generally involves three
- Determining if your industry is one that OSHA targets for programmed
inspections, e.g., refineries, chemical plants or steel facilities;
- Comparing the frequency rate of serious injuries at your site against
those of other companies in your industry. If your rates are above industry
norms, you run a higher risk of a programmed inspection such as under
the Site Specific Targeting Program; and
- Comparing the severity of your injuries and your workers' compensation
costs (or EMR-Experience Modification Rate) with that of your industry.
If your EMR is higher than the industry norm so are your chances of
Conclusion - The Luck Factor
There are limits to the reliability of such evaluations. Other factors
affect the likelihood of inspections including dumb luck. So even if your
industry isn't considered overly dangerous and your serious injury frequency
rates and EMR are below industry average, all it takes is one complaint,
unforeseen mishap or even just an OSHA inspector driving past your site
at the wrong time to produce an inspection.