4 Major Reasons for OSHA Inspections

triggers for osha inspections

If you’re operating in the field, especially in a high-risk industry, it is particularly important to be aware of OSHA inspections at all times. However, it’s very typical for inspectors to visit on-site with little to no warning, so it’s crucial always to be prepared and know how to manage it.

According to the recently published report by OSHA, they have conducted 21,674 inspections in FY 2020. This includes 12,948 (about 60 percent) unprogrammed inspections due to COVID-19 pandemic-related employee complaints, injuries/deaths, and referrals. Meanwhile, 8,726 (about 40 percent) were programmed inspections that focused OSHA’s enforcement resources towards industries and operations where known hazards exist.

Many factors can lead to OSHA inspections, some of which are predictable while others are the simple luck of the draw. So, in this article, we’ll let you know of some of the most typical reasons why your facility may receive an OSHA visit.

Arrival of the OSHA Safety Inspector

Before conducting an inspection, OSHA compliance officers have a protocol to follow, including checking in and obtaining permission to conduct the inspection.

Always look for the OSHA safety inspector’s ID and business card. While impersonating an inspector is fairly unusual, it’s still better to be safe than sorry. After all, all safety inspectors have a government-issued ID and business cards.

It’s also important for the company’s key managers and supervisors to determine the reason for the OSHA inspection at your workplace.

4 Major Reasons for an OSHA inspection

1. Worker or Public Complaints

High priority is placed on addressing concerns about workplace safety and violations. Based on the published reports by OSHA, there were about 4,581 complaint inspections in 2020. It is legal in the United States for a worker to submit a complaint with the company at any time. Upon filing, they may request anonymity, and once received by the OSHA area office, an OSHA safety inspector must follow up on the complaint.

It's the same for the public. A complaint can be submitted at any moment if your facility, building site, etc., presents a hazard or danger to the public.

2. Targeted Inspections

Specific high-risk industries or workplaces with significantly higher-than-average risks are also given special attention in OSHA inspections. This includes an excessive number of workplace injuries, lost workdays, or deaths.

3. Local Emphasis Programs (LEPs)

The Local Emphasis Programs (LEPs) are enforcement techniques that target certain risks specific to a hazard or industry in a particular location. Some active LEPs include Forklifts, Noise, Dairy Farm Operations, Oil & Gas Operations and Services, Poultry Processing, Construction, and Grain Handling.

According to OSHA's Regional LEP directives,“The emphasis programs may be administered by a single area office, or by a whole region (Regional Emphasis Programs), and they may be applied to all of the region's area offices. These LEPs will be supported by outreach to educate companies in the region about the program and the dangers it is meant to mitigate or avoid. This outreach might take the shape of educational mailings, training sessions at local trade exhibitions, or speeches at gatherings of industry associations or labor unions.”

Visit this page at osha.gov for more information and find LEPs specific to your region.

4. National Emphasis Program

The National Emphasis Program (NEP) plots almost the same as LEPs but executed on a national level. This emphasis program focuses on employers across the country that are in particularly high-hazard industries.

Currently, there are 11 active NEPs, which include:

  • Combustible Dust
  • Federal Agencies
  • Hazardous Machinery
  • Hexavalent Chromium
  • Isocyanates
  • Lead
  • Primary Metal Industries
  • Process Safety Management
  • Shipbreaking
  • Silica
  • Trenching & Excavation

Find out more information about NEPs at osha.gov.

Preparing for OSHA inspection, including the procedures during and after the inspection, is a must. And even if they never visit your facility, being prepared will help decrease accidents and demonstrate your company's commitment to workplace safety.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.