OSHA’s objective is to ensure safe workplaces for American workers. OSHA uses investigations and inspections to monitor compliance with federal workplace safety and health standards. However, the agency’s limited resources make it necessary for OSHA to prioritize its enforcement efforts. OSHA’s enforcement actions can be broadly categorized into two different processes – on-site inspections and off-site investigations.
On-site inspections occur whenever OSHA identifies a need to physically inspect a worksite. In general, OSHA inspections are prioritized by the severity and urgency of the situation, as shown below:
The first 3 priorities are generally known as “unprogrammed” inspections because they take place at OSHA’s discretion and timeline, often as a reaction to specific circumstances. On the other hand, programmed inspections follow a more systematic, scheduled approach, even when employers do not really have an exact date for when the inspection will take place.
On its website, OSHA explains that on-site inspections based on an employee’s complaint take place only when at least one of the following criteria is met:
Off-site investigations are generally conducted via phone and fax. This type of investigation allows OSHA to respond quickly in situations where none of the criteria for on-site inspections applies. During an investigation, employers must respond to OSHA requests and inquiries within 5 days.
An off-site investigation may lead into an on-site inspection if employers fail to respond within the 5-day window information discovered during the investigation meets the criteria for an on-site inspection or the person who submitted the complaint is not satisfied with the results of the investigation and requests an on-site inspection.