An Investment In Your Employees, Your Company, Your Future

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 steps:

  • 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 an inspection.

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.