OSHA oversees roughly seven million workplaces in the U.S., so the agency must prioritize when it conducts inspections. “Imminent danger situations” and cases of severe injuries and illnesses are the first priority. Next are cases resulting from worker complaints and referrals. Next, targeted inspections look at high-hazard industries and individual workplaces that have a record of noncompliance. Lastly, follow-up inspections are sometimes done to check on abatement.
Inspections are done without advance notice but according to a published, standard procedure. They begin with a presentation of credentials and a conference with the employer. The walkaround is conducted with a representative of the employer as well as an authorized representative of employees, if requested. The compliance officer can also talk to employees in private during the inspection.
Inspections end with a closing conference to discuss findings. If there are violations, employers can discuss possible courses of action as well as ways to contest any citations and penalties.
OSHA enforces many different rules regarding workplace safety, not just air quality standards. Its compliance officers are trained to examine all of these areas, and employers can expect inspections to address all of them. Still, violations of air quality regulations are the fourth most common citation, after fall protection, hazard communication, and scaffolding problems.
Citations can lead to serious fines. As of January 2017, fines are $12,675 per violation, which can add up if there are multiple offenses. Companies showing a “willful or repeated” pattern could be fined $126,749 per violation.
OSHA provides assistance in navigating the enforcement process. Their compliance specialists are available in most of their area offices. Appeals can be made up to 15 work days after receiving a citation. OSHA maintains that their priority is maintaining safe workplaces and not pursuing citations.