How to Interact with an OSHA Inspector

HR & Safety

The following article was provided by USI Insights. It is posted here with permission. 

The best way to avoid paying fines for violating Occupational Health and Safety Administration standards is to always be prepared for an inspection.

Since an OSHA officer has no obligation to inform an employer of the inspection ahead of time, the visit will usually be unannounced.

However, companies in industries with particular hazards and companies who have previously experienced a death in the workplace are most vulnerable to an OSHA inspection.

Preparing for Inspection

Planning for an assessment before it happens will make it go more smoothly, allow you to be in control and create a positive impression on the OSHA officer, all of which will result in fewer citations.

To be fully prepared, it is important to decide in advance who will be designated to do the following:

  • Greet the inspector
  • Guide the inspector during the walkaround of your facility
  • Document and photograph any alleged violations

Make sure you have your OSHA logs for the previous five years, if required to keep one, organized and ready for inspector review, in case he or she requests it. 

Failure to produce these, or any other document, requested by the OSHA inspector could result in hefty fines.

When an OSHA Inspector Arrives 

Greet the officer cordially, but ask to see the individual’s credentials right away if they do not immediately present them.

It is not enough that the officer produces credentials—be sure to verify them by calling the nearest federal or state OSHA office.

Notify your designated inspection team of the officer’s arrival and gather them for an opening conference with the compliance officer. 

You have the right to know why the inspector is visiting your facility, so if they do not specify, be sure to politely ask. 

You have the right to know why the inspector is visiting your facility.

Also, establish whether the inspection is to cover the entire facility or only the areas involving a particular complaint.

Have the designated employer representative lead the OSHA officer during the inspection. 

If requested by employees, a selected representative may also attend the walkthrough on their behalf. 

Ensure that the inspector minimizes any work interruptions during the inspection.

Show only the sections of the facility that the officer came to inspect. 

OSHA Violations

Be aware that if an officer sees a violation of OSHA standards in open view, they can legally expand the inspection beyond the previously established boundaries.

Correct any apparent violations detected by the officer immediately and on the spot. 

The officer will record this and take your good faith actions into account when assessing citations and fines.

Be courteous and professional, but only produce documents or information when they are requested, and respectfully insist that the inspector not wander off alone.

Note all of the inspector’s observations and take photos of the alleged violations. 

Do not argue with the officer on-site as to whether something is in violation of OSHA standards.

Do not argue with the officer on-site as to whether something is in violation of OSHA standards.

The compliance officer will conduct a closing conference. 

At this point, he will give you a list of all unsafe or unhealthy conditions found during the inspection. 

The officer will tell you which violations he will recommend as citations, and this is your opportunity to discuss how much time you would need to correct these hazardous conditions. 

However, it is not appropriate to ask about fines or penalties at this time, as only the OSHA area director has the authority to assign penalties after receiving the officer’s full report.

How Are Fines Assessed?

After receiving a citation, you can either accept it or contest it (in full or in part). 

After accepting the citation you will be required to pay the fine and correct the problem. 

Be sure to research the differences in OSHA policies if your state has its own OSHA-approved system.

Fines are assessed at different levels.

Fines are assessed at different levels. These fines are imposed per violation. 

For example, even though a serious violation will cost your company up to $15,625, you could have five serious violations, each one costing you $15,625 for a total of over $75,000. 

In addition, each day a violation remains uncorrected may be considered a separate violation. 

The table below provides a summary of possible OSHA penalties.

OSHA Penalties

Violation TypePenalty
De Minimis
Applies to the violation of a standard that has no direct or immediate relationship to safety or health. These violations are not included in a citation but they are documented in the same way as any other violation, but are not included on the citation.
No monetary fine assessed, serves as a warning
Other Than Serious Violation
Applies to a violation that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm. The administrative fine may be adjusted downward by as much as 95%, depending on the employer’s good faith efforts to comply with safety standards, history of previous violations and the size of the business. If the adjustment amount is less than $100, no penalty will be proposed.
Punishable by an administrative fine of up to $15,625 per violation.
Serious Violation
Applies to a violation where: There is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result; and the employer knew, or should have known, about the hazard. This administrative fine may be adjusted downward based on the employer’s good faith, history of previous violations, the gravity of the alleged violation, and the size of the business.
Punishable by an administrative fine of up to $15,625 per violation
Failure to Abate Prior Violation
Applies to violations that have not been corrected. Each day when the violation remains unabated beyond the prescribed abatement date is a separate violation.
Punishable by an administrative fine of up to $15,625 per violation per day beyond the abatement date
Willful Violation
Applies to a violation the employer commits knowingly or with plain indifference to the law. The employer either knows that it is committing a violation or is aware that a violation existed and made no reasonable effort to eliminate it. The administrative fine may be adjusted downward, depending on the size of the business and its history of previous violations. Usually there is no credit given for good faith.
If violation results in the death of an employee, the penalty may include a criminal conviction punishable by: A court-imposed fine up to $10,000Imprisonment for up to 6 months; or both a fine and imprisonment. If the violation does not result on the death of an employee, the violation is punishable by an administrative fine of up to $156,259 per violation.
Repeat Violation
Applies to the violation of any standard, regulation, rule or order found during re-inspection that is substantially similar previous violation. For a repeated violation to apply, the previous violation must have been subject to a final citation. A citation under contest cannot be the basis for a repeated violation.
Punishable by an administrative fine of up to $156,259 per violation.
Falsification of Records, Reports, or ApplicationsUp to $10,000, six months in jail, or both.
Failure to Comply with Posting RequirementsUp to $12,934 per violation
Providing Unauthorized Advance Notice of InspectionUp to $1,000, imprisonment for up to six months, or both

For more information about USI Insurance Services, contact Chad McCulley


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