OSHA Standards and Inspections

What are OSHA Standards

The four industrial groups covered by OSHA standards.

OSHA standards are:

  • rules that describe the methods employers must use to protect employees from hazards
  • designed to protect workers from a wide range of hazards

OSHA writes standards (also called "rules") for four industrial groups: general industry, construction, maritime, and agriculture. Where there are no specific standards, employers must comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act.

OSHA issues standards for a wide variety of workplace hazards, including:

  • toxic substances
  • electrical hazards
  • fall hazards
  • hazardous waste
  • machine hazards
  • infectious diseases
  • fire and explosion hazards
  • dangerous atmospheres

OSHA standards appear in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The OSHA standards are broken down into Parts:

  • Part 1910 is known as the General Industry Standards; Some of the types of industries covered by the General Industry standards are manufacturing, the service sector, and health care
  • Part 1926 covers the Construction industry
  • Parts 1915, 1917 and 1918 are Maritime Industry standards

1. Where there are no specific OSHA standards, employers must comply with _____.

a. vertical rules in the general industry standards
b. the standard that covers their specific industry
c. the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act
d. general industry rules (1910)

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Click to see all 10 violations.

Most Frequently Cited Standards

Through the years, the same standards seem to be most frequently cited by OSHA. Their position on the list below varies from year to year, but they're all on the TOP 10 list each year. Visit OSHA's website on this topic. Just click on the image.

Notice the Fall Protection and Hazard Communication standards: these two standards are usually is at or near the top, so make sure you have an effective hazard communication program. Actually, it's smart safety management to give priority to each of the top 10 in your safety program. After all, the following statement is true:

"That which OSHA sees the most, cites the most."

Look at OSHA’s Top 10 most frequently cited violations for 2020 by clicking on the image to the right.

2. Which two standards are always at the top of OSHA's Top Ten Most Cited List?

a. Scaffolding and Electrical Wiring
b. Hazard Communication and Fall Protection
c. Machine Guarding and Respiratory Protection
d. Lockout/Tagout and Powered Industrial Trucks

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OSHA's State Plan States

OSHA Coverage

The OSH Act covers most private sector employers and their workers, in addition to some public sector employers and workers in the 50 states and certain territories and jurisdictions under federal authority. Those jurisdictions include the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island, Johnston Island, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands.

Private Sector Workers

OSHA covers most private sector employers and workers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. jurisdictions either directly through Federal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved state plan.

State Plans

State plans are OSHA-approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states instead of Federal OSHA. The OSH Act encourages states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs and precludes state enforcement of OSHA standards unless the state has an approved program. OSHA approves and monitors all state plans and provides as much as fifty percent of the funding for each program. State-run safety and health programs must be at least as effective as the Federal OSHA program.

To find the contact information for the OSHA Federal or state plan office nearest you, call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or go to www.osha.gov.

3. State plan OSHA-approved job safety and health programs must be _____ the Federal OSHA program.

a. at least as effective as
b. similar to
c. written using the same language as
d. more specific than

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OSHA Inspections

OSHA Field Operations Manual (FOM)

The OSH Act authorizes OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) to conduct non-notice workplace inspections at reasonable times. See detailed requirements in the Field Operations Manual (click on image). OSHA conducts inspections without advance notice, except in rare circumstances (e.g. Imminent Danger) In fact, anyone who tells an employer about an OSHA inspection in advance can receive fines and a jail term.

Inspection Priorities

OSHA cannot inspect all 7 million workplaces it covers each year so it focuses inspection resources on the most hazardous workplaces in the following order of priority:

  1. Imminent danger situations: Hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm receive top priority. Compliance officers will ask employers to correct these hazards immediately or remove endangered employees.
  2. Fatalities or hospitalizations: Employers must report work-related fatalities within 8 hours and work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, or losses of an eye within 24 hours. CSHOs gather evidence and interview the employer, workers, and others to determine the causes of the event and whether violations occurred.
  3. Worker Complaints: A worker or worker representative can file a complaint about a safety or health hazard in the workplace. Allegations of hazards or violations also receive a high priority. Employees may request anonymity when they file complaints.
  4. Referrals: Hazards are referred from other federal, state or local agencies, individuals, organizations or the media. Referrals usually are from a government agency, such as NIOSH or a local health department.
  5. Targeted inspections: These inspections are aimed at specific high-hazard industries or individual workplaces that have experienced high rates of injuries and illnesses.
  6. Follow-up inspections: The primary purpose of a follow-up inspection is to determine if the previously cited violations have been corrected.

4. Which of the following types of OSHA inspections has the highest priority?

a. Targeted inspections
b. Worker complaint inspections
c. Fatalities or hospitalizations
d. Imminent danger situations

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Citations and Penalties

OSHA Fact Sheet
Click to Enlarge

Willful violation: A willful violation is cited when the employer intentionally and knowingly commits the violation. It is also cited when the employer commits a violation with plain indifference to the law. OSHA may propose penalties of up to $124,709 for each willful violation.

Repeated violation: This violation is cited by OSHA when it is the same as a similar or previous violation. OSHA may propose penalties of up to $124,709 for each repeated violation.

Serious violation: OSHA cites a serious violation where there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

Other-than-serious violation: An other-than-serious violation is cited when the violation has a direct relationship to safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm. OSHA may propose penalties of up to $12,471 for each serious, other than serious, and repeated violation.

Failure to abate: When the employer fails to abate a violation, a maximum of $12,471 may be proposed for per day unabated beyond the abatement date. Generally there is a 30-day maximum limit.

Falsifying information: An employer that provides false information to OSHA can receive a fine up to $12,471 or up to six months in jail, or both.

OSHA cites employers, not employees. It's important to know that the OSHA Act does not provide for the issuance of citations or the proposal of penalties against employees. Employers are responsible for employee compliance with the standards.

Penalty Adjustments: OSHA may adjust penalties downward depending upon the employer's size (maximum number of employees), good faith, and the history of previous violations. Adjustments may be applied as follows:

  • A 10 percent reduction may be given for history.
  • A maximum of 25 percent reduction is permitted for good faith; and
  • A maximum of 70 percent reduction is permitted for size.

5. How much may an employer be penalized if they repeat a serious violation?

a. Up to $70,000
b. Up to $124,709
c. Up to $12,471
d. Up to $7,000

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The OSHA Inspection Process

The OSHA Inspection Process

Preparation - Before conducting an inspection, OSHA compliance officers research the inspection history of a worksite using various data sources, review the operations and processes in use and the standards most likely to apply. They gather appropriate personal protective equipment and testing instruments to measure potential hazards.

Presentation of credentials - The on-site inspection begins with the presentation of the compliance officer's credentials, which include both a photograph and a serial number.

Opening Conference - The compliance officer will explain why OSHA selected the workplace for inspection and describe the scope of the inspection, walkaround procedures, employee representation and employee interviews. The employer then selects a representative to accompany the compliance officer during the inspection. An authorized representative of the employees, if any, also has the right to go along. In any case, the compliance officer will consult privately with a reasonable number of employees during the inspection.

The Walkaround - Following the opening conference, the compliance officer, employee representative and the employer representative will walk through the portions of the workplace covered by the inspection, inspecting for hazards that could lead to employee injury or illness. The compliance officer interview employees and will also review worksite injury and illness records and the posting of the official OSHA poster.

Closing Conference - After the walkaround, the compliance officer holds a closing conference with the employer and the employee representatives to discuss the findings. The compliance officer discusses possible courses of action an employer may take following an inspection, which could include an informal conference with OSHA or contesting citations and proposed penalties. The compliance officer also discusses consultation services and employee rights.

Results - When an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, OSHA may issue citations and fines. Citations describe OSHA requirements allegedly violated, list any proposed penalties and give a deadline for correcting the alleged hazards.

Appeals - When OSHA issues a citation to an employer, it also offers the employer an opportunity for an informal conference to discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates or any other information pertinent to the inspection. Employers have 15 days after receipt of citations and proposed penalties to formally contest the alleged violations and/or penalties.

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the theSafetyBrief.com that gives you a "heads up" on OSHA inspections.

6. At what point does the OSHA on-site inspection begin?

a. Once all representatives have been briefed and the walkaround begins
b. Once the compliance officer has completed the opening conference
c. Upon arrival of the compliance officer to the worksite
d. With the presentation of the compliance officer’s credentials

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Getting Help

Sources Within the workplace/worksite

It's smart business to get the help of OSHA consultants.

There are many resources available to you if you want to find out more information about a safety or health issue in your workplace. Some sources are:

  • Employer or supervisor, co-workers and union representatives - OSHA encourages workers and employers to work together to reduce hazards.
  • Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for information on chemicals - If you are working with a chemical, the SDS can give you important information about its hazards, precautions and personal protective equipment needed to work safely with it.
  • Labels and warning signs – Labels and signs can show hazard information to workers and can be useful in providing additional information and making you aware of a potential safety or health hazard.
  • Employee orientation manuals or other training materials – Orientation manuals and training materials about your job should include information about how to work safely.
  • Work tasks and procedures instruction – If you have questions about a new job or task, or a job or task that has changed, be sure to ask for the written procedures and for additional training on them.

Sources Outside the Workplace/Worksite

If you cannot find out the safety and health information you need in your workplace, there are many resources available outside the workplace.

  • OSHA's website: You can find OSHA regulations, the A-Z Index, FAQ Page, training, eTools and other services that can be a great help to you.
  • Consultants: We believe that one of the smartest things you can do, as a safety professional, is to communicate and establish a relationship with OSHA, workers' compensation insurer, and private consultants. You should also communicate with other safety professionals within the industry and in professional associations.
  • NIOSH: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is an agency within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can their A-Z index for many topics on safety and health research and findings.

7. What is a very smart thing for you to do as a safety professional?

a. Communicate with OSHA consultants
b. Stay away from the OSHA website
c. Realize safety is just a matter of luck
d. Try to stay invisible from OSHA

Check your Work

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