OSHA inspectors can inspect one’s workplace at any time without advance notice or authorization by a court and, based on what they find, can issue citations and impose penalties. It is unlikely that inspectors will make random inspections unless one is in a particularly hazardous business such as construction. OSHA has a limited number of inspectors, and must use its resources wisely.
If one has a workplace with ten or fewer employees and he is in an industry that has a low injury rate, he is exempt from random inspections by federal OSHA officials. State safety and health laws, however, may empower local inspectors to randomly inspect smaller business. If one’s business is a small insurance agency, retail store, computer repair shop or similar low injury business, his chances of receiving a random inspection are remote.
Most small businesses are inspected only if:
Even if an employer is at low risk of inspection, he is not free to ignore safety and health concerns. He is legally required to take the initiative in identifying and eliminating safety and health problems that can affect employees.
Penalties ordered by OSHA depend on the seriousness of the violation. For willful or repeated violations, a company may have to pay thousands of dollars in penalties. If a worker has died because the employer violated OSHA standards, the employer could even be sent to prison. For less serious violations—problems that are unlikely to cause serious harm or death—the penalty may be up to $1,000. In assessing penalties, OSHA looks at several factors, including:
There is an appeal process through which one can challenge an OSHA citation against his business. If the federal OSHA issues the citation, the employer has 15 days to file a notice of contest with the agency. If a state OSHA issues citations in one’s state, he should check with that agency to confirm the filing deadline. It is wise to consult a lawyer before embarking on an appeal. After the notice of contest is filed, an administrative law judge will conduct a hearing, giving the employer and others concerned a chance to present evidence. If an employer disagrees with the decision of the administrative law judge, there is an additional appeal process within OSHA. Fortunately, most OSHA disputes are resolved through a voluntary settlement.