Inspection Priorities | OSHA Inspection

Obviously, not all workplaces covered by the OSH Act can be inspected immediately. Because the worst situations need attention first, OSHA has established the following system of inspection priorities.

Imminent Danger

Imminent danger situations are given top priority. An imminent danger is any condition where there is reasonable certainty that a danger exists that can be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the danger can be eliminated through normal enforcement procedures.

Serious physical harm is any type of harm that could cause permanent or prolonged damage to the body or which, while not damaging the body on a prolonged basis, could cause such temporary disability as to require in-patient hospital treatment. OSHA considers that "permanent or prolonged damage" has occurred when, for example, a part of the body is crushed or severed; an arm, leg, or finger is amputated; or sight in one or both eyes is lost.

This kind of damage also includes that which renders a part of the body either functionally useless or substantially reduced in efficiency on or off the job. An example: bones in a limb shattered so severely that mobility or dexterity will be permanently reduced.

Temporary disability requiring in-patient hospital treatment includes injuries such as simple fractures, concussions, burns or wounds involving substantial loss of blood and requiring extensive suturing or other healing aids.

Injuries or illnesses that are difficult to observe are classified as serious if they inhibit a person in performing normal functions, cause reduction in physical or mental efficiency or shorten life.

Health hazards may constitute imminent danger situations when they present a serious and immediate threat to life or health.

For a health hazard to be considered an imminent danger, there must be a reasonable expectation that:

  • Toxic substances such as dangerous fumes, dusts or gases are present, and

  • Exposure to them will cause immediate and irreversible harm to such a degree as to shorten life or cause reduction in physical or mental efficiency, even though the resulting harm is not immediately apparent.

Hazard Notification

Employees should inform their supervisor or employer immediately if they detect or even suspect an imminent danger situation in the workplace. If the employer takes no action to eliminate the danger, an employee or the authorized employee representative may notify the nearest OSHA office and request an inspection.

The request should identify the workplace location, detail the hazard or condition and include the employee's name, address and telephone number. Although the employer has the right to see a copy of the complaint if an inspection results, the name of the employee will be withheld if the employee so requests.

The OSHA area director reviews the information and immediately determines whether there is a reasonable basis for the allegation. If it is decided the case has merit, the area director will alert the OSHA regional administrator and the regional solicitor, and assign a compliance officer to conduct an immediate inspection of the workplace.

Upon inspection, if an imminent danger situation is found, the compliance officer will ask the employer to voluntarily abate the hazard and to remove endangered employees from exposure. Should the employer fail to do this, OSHA may apply to the nearest Federal District Court for appropriate legal action to correct the situation.

Before the OSHA inspector leaves the workplace, he or she will advise all affected employees of the hazard. Should OSHA "arbitrarily or capriciously" decline to bring court action, the affected employees may sue the Secretary of Labor to compel the Secretary to do so. Such action can produce a temporary restraining order (immediate shutdown) of the operation or section of the workplace where the imminent danger exists.

When an Employee Refuses to Work

Walking off the job because of potentially unsafe workplace conditions is not ordinarily an employee right. To do so may result in disciplinary action by the employer. However, an employee does have the right to refuse (in good faith) to be exposed to an imminent danger. OSHA rules protect employees from discrimination if:

  • Where possible, he or she asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so; and

  • The danger is so imminent that there is not sufficient time to have the danger eliminated through normal enforcement procedures; and

  • The danger facing the employee is so grave that "a reasonable person" in the same situation would conclude there is a real danger of death or serious physical harm; and

  • The employee has no reasonable alternative to refusing to work under these conditions.

If an imminent danger situation is found, the compliance officer will ask the employer to voluntarily abate the hazard and to remove endangered employees from exposure. Should the employer fail to do this, OSHA, through the regional solicitor, may apply to the Federal District Court for an injunction prohibiting further work as long as unsafe conditions exist.

Catastrophes and Fatal Accidents

Second priority is given to the investigation of fatalities and accidents resulting in hospitalization of three or more employees.

Such catastrophes must be reported to OSHA by the employer within eight hours. OSHA investigates to determine the cause of such accidents, whether existing OSHA standards were violated, and whether additional standards are necessary to help avoid a recurrence of similar accidents.

Employee Complaints

Third priority is given to formal employee complaints of alleged violations of standards or of unsafe or unhealthful working conditions.

Every employee has the right to request an OSHA inspection when that employee feels he or she is in imminent danger from a hazard or when he or she feels that there is a violation of an OSHA standard that threatens physical harm. OSHA will maintain confidentiality if requested, will inform the employee of any action it takes regarding the complaint and, if requested, will hold an informal review of any decision not to inspect.

OSHA's Programmed Inspections

OSHA's next priority is programmed inspections aimed at specific high hazard industries, occupations, or health substances, or other industries identified in OSHA's current inspection procedures. Industries are selected for inspection on the basis of such factors as the injury incidence rates, previous citation history, employee exposure to toxic substances, or random selection. Special emphasis programs may also be developed and may be regional or national in scope, depending on the distribution of the workplaces involved.

Comprehensive safety inspections in manufacturing will be conducted normally in those establishments with lost work-day injury rates at or above the BLS national rate for manufacturing currently in use by OSHA. States with their own occupational safety and health programs may use somewhat different systems to identify industries for inspection.

Follow-Up Inspections

A follow-up inspection determines if previously cited violations have been corrected. If an employer has failed to abate a violation, the compliance officer informs the employer that he/she is subject to "Failure to Abate" alleged violations and proposed additional daily penalties while such failure to abate or violation continues.

Records Review

A records review is an examination of the employer's injury and illness records to determine whether there will be a comprehensive inspection of the workplace. The compliance officer reviews the OSHA Form 200 (log of occupational injuries and illnesses) and employment data of the establishment. Using these data, the compliance officer calculates the lost workday injury (LWDI) rate for the establishment. This figure is compared to the national average for manufacturing, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If the calculated LWDI rate is below the BLS rate, the compliance officer will not normally conduct a comprehensive safety inspection. If the LWDI rate is above the national average, an inspection will be conducted.

OSHA Inspections

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the Act), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is authorized to conduct workplace inspections to determine whether employers are complying with standards issued by the Agency for safe and healthful workplaces. OSHA also enforces Section 5(a)(1) of the Act, known as the General Duty Clause, which requires that every working man and woman must be provided with a safe and healthful workplace. Workplace inspections are performed by OSHA compliance safety and health officers who are knowledgeable and experienced in the occupational safety and health field and who are trained in the OSHA standards and in the recognition of safety and health hazards. Similarly, states with their own occupational safety and health programs conduct inspections using qualified State compliance safety and health officers.

OSHA Inspections

Workplace inspections are performed by OSHA compliance officers who are knowledgeable and experienced in the occupational safety and health field and who are trained in OSHA standards and in the recognition of safety and health hazards. Similarly, states with their own occupational safety and health programs conduct inspections using qualified state compliance safety and health officers.

Conducting Inspections

Inspections are usually conducted without advance notice. In fact, alerting an employer without proper authorization in advance of an OSHA inspection can bring a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a six-month jail term. This is true for OSHA compliance officers as well as state inspectors.

There are, however, special circumstances under which OSHA may give notice to the employer, but such a notice will normally be less than 24 hours. These circumstances include:

  • Imminent danger situations which require correction as soon as possible;

  • Inspections which must take place after regular business hours or which require special preparation;

  • Cases where notice is required to assure that the employer and employee representative or other personnel will be present;

  • Cases where an inspection must be delayed for more than 5 working days when there is good cause; and

  • Situations in which the OSHA area director determines that advance notice would produce a more thorough or effective inspection.

Employers who receive advance notice of an inspection must inform their employees' representative or arrange for OSHA to do so.

Refusing an Inspector

If an employer refuses to admit an OSHA compliance officer or if an employer attempts to interfere with the inspection, the Agency will take appropriate legal action.

Based on the 1978 Supreme Court ruling of Marshall v. Barlow's Inc., OSHA usually may not conduct warrantless inspections without valid consent. The Agency may, however, inspect after acquiring a judicially authorized search warrant based on administrative probable cause or evidence of a violation.

General Duty Clause | OSHA

The General Duty Clause, found in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, has become increasingly important to employers in the last few years as OSHA has begun to utilize the clause in more and more of its penalty and enforcement actions. The following information describes the General Duty Clause and how it is being used by OSHA to ensure a safe work environment.

What is the General Duty Clause?

Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires that every working man and woman must be provided with a safe and healthful workplace. The section, more commonly known as the General Duty Clause, specifically states:

"Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."

In simple terms, this statement means that you, as an employer, may be obligated to protect your employees from recognized hazards in the workplace even if there is not an OSHA standard which applies to the situation or if hazards still exist after compliance with a standard. In effect, the General Duty Clause obligates employers to take additional steps toward safety if the well-being of employees is in jeopardy.

How Does OSHA Use the General Duty Clause?

Revised: 2002/04
The General Duty Clause extends OSHA's authority beyond the specific requirements of the OSHA standards when a recognized workplace hazard exists or potentially exists. Between 10/00 - 9/01, the General Duty Clause was used as the basis for 1,116 OSHA citations. Over $881,000 in penalties was collected as a result of these citations. The General Duty Clause is often used by OSHA when there is no specific standard which applies to a recognized hazard in the workplace. OSHA may also use the General Duty Clause when a standard exists, but it is clear that the hazards involved warrant additional precautions beyond what the current safety standards require.

Revised: 2002/10
OSHA’s action on ergonomic hazards in the workplace is a good example of the application of the General Duty Clause in situations where a standard does not currently exist. There are no standards governing job or work station design to reduce or prevent cumulative trauma disorders or other injuries. However, OSHA has widely applied the General Duty Clause to address ergonomic hazards in the workplace. Typically in these situations, OSHA will discover ergonomic-related problems while reviewing a company’s accident and injury records. The highly publicized citations issued to several meatpacking plants for cumulative trauma disorders are an example of the use of the General Duty Clause to correct ergonomic hazards. The action in this area eventually led to the issuance of ergonomic guidelines for the meatpacking industry and consideration of a standard for the general industry.

Revised: 2002/10
OSHA has also issued General Duty Clause citations on other issues where no apparent safety standard exists. Citations have been issued for lack of training, failure to have additional safety or alarm equipment to detect or warn of chemical leaks, and failure to provide safe locations or safe access to valves or other instruments necessary to an employee’s job.

Revised: 2002/10
What about situations where a safety standard currently exists on a particular subject? Are you doing enough if you are in compliance with OSHA’s safety standard? The answer, unfortunately, is maybe not. OSHA has also used the General Duty Clause to cite employers who knew that an OSHA standard was inadequate to protect their employees from harm.

Revised: 2002/10
At least one Circuit Court decision (International Union UAW v. General Dynamics, 815 F.2d 1570, D.C. Cir. 1987) has validated OSHA’s use of the General Duty Clause in this manner. In this situation, after several injuries and eventually a death involving the use of freon in confined spaces, OSHA cited General Dynamics under the General Duty Clause for not having a confined space procedure in situations where an employee could be asphyxiated or chemically poisoned by the cleaning compound (freon) being used. General Dynamics appealed the citation to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission which ruled in favor of the company noting that since there was a specific OSHA exposure standard for freon (eight-hour time-weighted average), OSHA could not cite the company under the General Duty Clause. The Commission’s decision was then reviewed by the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia which decided in favor of OSHA. The court stated that:

Revised: 2002/10
...if (as alleged in this case) an employer knows a particular safety standard is inadequate to pro- . . . tect his workers against the specific hazard it is intended to address, or that the conditions in his place of employment are such that the safety standards will not adequately deal with the hazards to which his employees are exposed, he has a duty under Section 5(a)(1) to take whatever measures may be required by the Act, over and above those mandated by the safety standard, to safeguard his workers.


Revised: 2002/10

Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 places additional responsibilities on the employer and the safety manager to ensure that a safe work environment is provided to all employees. The General Duty Clause is being increasingly applied to a wide variety of situations, many of which have not been addressed by a specific OSHA standard. What may be even more disconcerting, however, is that general duty citations can also be issued if OSHA feels that additional safety equipment or procedures are necessary beyond what is required in an OSHA standard. Thus, the General Duty Clause is making it increasingly difficult for companies to fully comply with OSHA’s requirements.

One way to deal with the increasing threat of general duty violations is to make good faith efforts to correct existing workplace hazards and to identify and address new hazards as they appear. Some steps you can take to accomplish this goal include:

  • Regularly review your accident and injury records to identify injury patterns or areas for concern;

  • Investigate every accident or injury in the workplace to determine the specific cause and to determine whether any action needs to be taken to prevent the accident or injury from recurring;

  • Conduct job hazard analyses on a regular basis in order to identify the specific hazards associated with every job and to identify new job hazards;

  • Document your training efforts and conduct periodic retraining as necessary;

  • Consider establishing an employee safety committee in the workplace; and

  • When you have met the “letter of the law,” step back, and critically assess whether the process might still be unsafe

Employee Responsibilities and Rights | OSHA

Although OSHA does not cite employees for violations of their responsibilities, each employee "shall comply with all occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued under the Act" that are applicable. Employee responsibilities and rights in states with their own occupational safety and health programs are generally the same as for workers in federal OSHA states.


As an employee, you should:

  • Read the OSHA poster at the jobsite.

  • Comply with all applicable OSHA standards.

  • Follow all employer safety and health rules and regulations, and wear or use prescribed protective equipment while engaged in work.

  • Report hazardous conditions to the supervisor.

  • Report any job-related injury or illness to the employer, and seek treatment promptly.

  • Cooperate with the OSHA compliance officer conducting an inspection if he or she inquires about safety and health conditions in your workplace.

  • Exercise your rights under the Act in a responsible manner.

11(c) Rights: Protection for using Rights

Employees have a right to seek safety and health on the job without fear of punishment. That right is spelled out in Section 11(c) of the Act.

The law says employers shall not punish or discriminate against workers for exercising rights such as:

  • Complaining to an employer, union, OSHA or any other government agency about job safety and health hazards.

  • Filing safety or health grievances.

  • Participating on a workplace safety and health committee or in union activities concerning job safety and health.

  • Participating in OSHA inspections, conferences, hearings or other OSHA-related activities.

Discrimination for using Rights

If an employee is exercising these or other OSHA rights, the employer is not allowed to discriminate against that worker in any way, such as through firing, demotion, taking away seniority or other earned benefits, transferring the worker to an undesirable job or shift, or threatening or harassing the worker.

If the employer has knowingly allowed the employee to do something in the past (such as leaving work early), he or she may be violating the law by punishing the worker for doing the same thing following a protest of hazardous conditions. If the employer knows that a number of workers are doing the same thing wrong, he or she cannot legally single out for punishment the worker who has taken part in safety and health activities.

Although there is nothing in the OSHA law that specifically gives an employee the right to refuse to perform an unsafe or unhealthful job assignment, OSHA's regulations, which have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, provide that an employee may refuse to work when faced with an imminent danger of death or serious injury. The conditions necessary to justify a work refusal are very stringent, however, and a work refusal should be an action taken only as a last resort. If time permits, the unhealthful or unsafe condition should be reported to OSHA or another appropriate regulatory agency.

Workers believing that they have been punished for exercising safety and health rights must contact the nearest OSHA office within 30 days of the time they learn of the alleged discrimination. A representative of the employee's choosing can file the 11(c) complaint for the worker. Following a complaint, OSHA will contact the complainant and conduct an indepth interview to determine whether an investigation is necessary.

If evidence supports the conclusion that the employee has been punished for exercising safety and health rights, OSHA will ask the employer to restore that worker's job, earnings, and benefits. If the employer declines to enter into a voluntary settlement, OSHA may take the employer to court. In such cases, an attorney of the Department of Labor will conduct litigation on behalf of the employee to obtain this relief.

Section 405 of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) was enacted on January 6, 1983, and provides protection from reprisal by employers for truckers and certain other employees in the trucking industry involved in activity related to interstate commercial motor vehicle safety and health. Secretary of Labor's Order No. 9-83 (48 FR 35736, August 5, 1983) delegated to the Assistant Secretary of OSHA the authority to investigate and to issue findings and preliminary orders under Section 405.

Employees who believe they have been discriminated against for exercising their rights under Section 405 can file a complaint with OSHA within 180 days of the incident. The Secretary will then investigate the complaint, and within 60 days after it was filed, issue findings as to whether there is a reason to believe Section 405 has been violated.

If the Secretary finds that a complaint has merit, he/she also will issue an order requiring, where appropriate, abatement of the violation, reinstatement with back pay and related compensation, payment of compensatory damages, and the payment of the employee's expenses in bringing the complaint. Either the employee or employer may object to the findings. If no objection is filed within 30 days, the findings and order are final. However, if a timely filed objection is made, the objecting party is entitled to a hearing on the objection before an Administrative Law Judge of the Department of Labor.

Within 120 days of the hearing the Secretary will issue a final order. A party aggrieved by the final order may seek judicial review in a court of appeals within 60 days of the final order.

The following activities of truckers and certain employees involved in interstate commercial motor vehicle operation are protected under Section 405:

  • Filing of safety or health complaints with OSHA or other regulatory agency relating to a violation of a commercial motor vehicle safety rule, regulation, standard, or order.

  • Instituting or causing to be instituted any proceedings relating to a violation of a commercial motor vehicle safety rule, regulation, standard, or order.

  • Testifying in any such proceedings relating to the above items.

  • Refusing to operate a vehicle when such operation constitutes a violation of any federal rules, regulations, standards or orders applicable to commercial motor vehicle safety or health; or because of the employee's reasonable apprehension of serious injury to himself or the public due to the unsafe condition of the equipment.

Complaints under Section 405 are filed in the same manner as complaints under 11(c). The filing period for Section 405 is 180 days from the alleged discrimination, rather than 30 days as under Section 11(c).

The worker does not have to complete any forms. An OSHA staff member will complete the forms, asking what happened and who was involved.

Following a complaint, OSHA investigates. If an employee has been illegally punished for exercising safety and health rights, OSHA asks the employer to restore that worker's job earning and benefits. If necessary, and if it can prove discrimination, OSHA takes the employer to court. In such cases the worker does not pay any legal fees.

If a state agency has an OSHA-approved state program, employees may file their complaint with either federal OSHA or the state agency under its laws.

Other Rights

As an employee, you have the right to:

  • Review copies of appropriate OSHA standards, rules, regulations and requirements that the employer should have available at the workplace.

  • Request information from your employer on safety and health hazards in the area, on precautions that may be taken, and on procedures to be followed if an employee is involved in an accident or is exposed to toxic substances.

  • Receive adequate training and information on workplace safety and health hazards.

  • Request the OSHA area director to conduct an inspection if you believe hazardous conditions or violations of standards exist in your workplace.

  • Have your name withheld from your employer, upon request to OSHA, if you file a written and signed complaint.

  • Be advised of OSHA actions regarding your complaint and have an informal review, if requested, of any decision not to inspect or to issue a citation.

  • Have your authorized employee representative accompany the OSHA compliance officer during the inspection tour.

  • Respond to questions from the OSHA compliance officer, particularly if there is no authorized employee representative accompanying the compliance officer.

  • Observe any monitoring or measuring of hazardous materials and have the right to see these records, as specified under the Act.

  • Have your authorized representative, or yourself, review the Log and Summary of Occupational Injuries (OSHA 200 or OSHA 300/300A) at a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner.

  • Request a closing discussion with the compliance officer following an inspection.

  • Submit a written request to NIOSH for information on whether any substance in your workplace has potentially toxic effects in the concentration being used, and have your name withheld from your employer if you so request.

  • Object to the abatement period set in the citation issued to your employer by writing to the OSHA area director within 15 working days of the issuance of the citation.

  • Be notified by your employer if he or she applies for a variance from an OSHA standard, and testify at a variance hearing and appeal the final decision.

  • Submit information or comment to OSHA on the issuance, modification, or revocation of OSHA standards and request a public hearing.

Employer Responsibilities and Rights | OSHA

Employers have certain responsibilities and rights under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The checklists which follow provide a review of many of these. Employer responsibilities and rights in states with their own occupational safety and health programs are generally the same as in federal OSHA states.


As an employer, you must:

  • Meet your general duty responsibility to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees, and comply with standards, rules and regulations issued under the Act.

  • Be familiar with mandatory OSHA standards and make copies available to employees for review upon request.

  • Inform all employees about OSHA.

  • Examine workplace conditions to make sure they conform to applicable standards.

  • Minimize or reduce hazards.

  • Make sure employees have and use safe tools and equipment (including appropriate personal protective equipment), and that such equipment is properly maintained.

  • Use color codes, posters, labels or signs when needed to warn employees of potential hazards.

  • Establish or update operating procedures and communicate them so that employees follow safety and health requirements.

  • Provide training required by OSHA standards (e.g., hazard communication, lead, etc.).

  • Provide medical examinations when required by OSHA standards.

  • Report to the nearest OSHA office within 8 hours any fatal accident or one which results in the hospitalization of three or more employees.

  • Keep OSHA-required records of work-related injuries and illnesses, and post a copy of the totals from the last page of the OSHA 300 on the OSHA 300A Summary and post it from February 1 through April 30.(This applies to employers with 11 or more employees.)

  • Post, at a prominent location within the workplace, the OSHA poster (OSHA 2203 or OSHA 3165) informing employees of their rights and responsibilities. (In states operating OSHA-approved job safety and health programs, you may post your state's equivalent poster.)

  • Provide employees, former employees and their representatives access to the Log and Summary of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA 200 or OSHA 300/300A) at a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner.

  • Provide access to employee medical records and exposure records to employees or their authorized representatives.

  • Cooperate with the OSHA compliance officer by furnishing names of authorized employee representatives who may be asked to accompany the compliance officer during an inspection. (If none, the compliance officer will consult with a reasonable number of employees concerning safety and health in the workplace.)

  • Not discriminate against employees who properly exercise their rights under the Act.

  • Post OSHA citations at or near the worksite involved. Each citation, or copy thereof, must remain posted until the violation has been abated, or for three working days, whichever is longer.

  • Abate cited violations within the prescribed period.


As an employer, you have the right to:

  • Seek advice and off-site consultation as needed by writing, calling or visiting the nearest OSHA Office. (OSHA will not inspect merely because an employer requests assistance.)

  • Be active in your industry association's involvement in job safety and health.

  • Request and receive proper identification of the OSHA compliance officer prior to inspection.

  • Be advised by the compliance officer of the reason for an inspection.

  • Have an opening and closing conference with the compliance officer.

  • Accompany the compliance officer on the inspection.

  • File a Notice of Contest with the OSHA area director within 15 working days of receipt of a notice of citation and proposed penalty.

  • Apply to OSHA for a temporary variance from a standard if unable to comply because of the unavailability of materials, equipment or personnel needed to make necessary changes within the required time.

  • Apply to OSHA for a permanent variance from a standard if you can furnish proof that your facilities or method of operation provide employee protection at least as effective as that required by the standard.

  • Take an active role in developing safety and health standards through participation in OSHA Standards Advisory Committees, through nationally recognized standards-setting organizations and through evidence and views presented in writing or at hearings.

  • Be assured of the confidentiality of any trade secrets observed by an OSHA compliance officer during an inspection.

  • Submit a written request to NIOSH for information on whether any substance in your workplace has potentially toxic effects in the concentrations being used.

Training and Education | OSHA

OSHA's area offices are full-service centers offering a variety of informational services such as availability for speaking engagements, publications, audiovisual aids on workplace hazards, and technical advice.

The OSHA Training Institute in Des Plaines, Illinois provides basic and advanced training and education in safety and health for federal and state compliance officers; state consultants; other federal agency personnel; and private sector employers, employees and their representatives. Institute courses cover areas such as electrical hazards, machine guarding, ventilation and ergonomics.

The Institute facility includes classrooms, laboratories, a library and an audio visual unit. The laboratories contain various demonstrations and equipment, such as power presses, woodworking and welding shops, a complete industrial ventilation unit and a sound demonstration laboratory. Courses are available for personnel in the private sector dealing with subjects such as safety and health in the construction industry and methods of voluntary compliance with OSHA standards.

OSHA also provides funds to nonprofit organizations to conduct workplace training and education in subjects where OSHA believes there is a current lack of workplace training. OSHA identifies areas of unmet needs for safety and health education in the workplace annually and invites grant applications to address these needs.

Organizations awarded grants use funds to develop training and educational programs, reach out to workers and employers for whom their program is appropriate, and provide these programs to workers and employers. Grants are awarded annually. Grant recipients are expected to contribute 20 percent of the total grant cost.

Voluntary Protection Program (VPP)

The Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) represents one component of OSHA's effort to extend worker protection beyond the minimum required by OSHA standards. This program, along with others such as expanded onsite consultation services and full-service area offices, provide cooperative approaches which, when coupled with an effective enforcement program, expand worker protection to help meet the goals of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The three VPPs — Star, Merit, and Demonstration — are designed to:

  • Recognize outstanding achievement of those who have successfully incorporated comprehensive safety and health programs into their total management system;

  • Motivate others to achieve excellent safety and health results in the same outstanding way; and

  • Establish a relationship between employers, employees and OSHA that is based on cooperation rather than coercion.

The Star Program is the most demanding and the most prestigious. It is open to an employer in any industry who has successfully managed a comprehensive safety and health program to reduce injury rates below the national average for the industry. Specific requirements for the program include: management commitment and employee participation; a high quality worksite analysis program; hazard prevention and control programs; and comprehensive safety and health training for all employees. These requirements must all be in place and operating effectively.

The Merit Program is primarily a stepping stone to Star Program participation. An employer with a basic safety and health program built around the Star requirements who is committed to improving the company's program and who has the resources to do so within a specified period of time may work with OSHA to meet Star qualifications.

The Demonstration Program is for companies that provide Star-quality worker protection in industries where certain Star requirements may not be appropriate or effective. It allows OSHA both the opportunity to recognize outstanding safety and health programs that would otherwise be unreached by the VPP and to determine if general Star requirements can be changed to include these companies as Star participants.

OSHA reviews an employer's VPP application and conducts an on-site review to verify that the safety and health program described is in operation at the site. Evaluations are conducted on a regular basis, annually for Merit and Demonstration programs, and triennially for Star. All participants must send their injury information annually to their OSHA regional office. Sites participating in the VPP are not scheduled for programmed inspections; however, any employee complaints, serious accidents or significant chemical releases that may occur are handled according to routine enforcement procedures.

An employer may make application for any VPP at the nearest OSHA regional office. Once OSHA is satisfied that, on paper, the employer qualifies for the program, an onsite visit is scheduled. The review team presents its findings in a written report for the company's review prior to submission to the Assistant Secretary of Labor who heads OSHA. If approved, the employer receives a letter from the Assistant Secretary informing the site of its participation in the VPP. A certificate of approval and flag are presented at a ceremony held at or near the approved worksite. Star sites receiving reapproval after each triennial evaluation receive plaques at similar ceremonies.

The VPPs as described are available in states under federal jurisdiction. Some 18(b) state plan states have similar programs. Interested companies in 18(b) states should contact the appropriate state designee for information.

Additional information on the VPP is available from OSHA national, regional, and area offices.

Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP)

In many states, an employer that receives a comprehensive consultation visit, corrects all identified hazards, and demonstrates that an effective safety and health program is in operation may be recognized by OSHA for its commitment to workplace safety and health. OSHA's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, better known as SHARP, is a program within the Onsite Consultation service that provides public recognition for employers with model safety and health programs and awards them by granting a one-year exemption from OSHA's general scheduled inspections.

SHARP is designed to provide incentives and support for small, high-hazard employers to help them develop, implement, and continuously improve effective safety and health programs in their worksites. To be eligible for the program, an employer must:

  • Operate a single, fixed worksite with 250 or fewer employees and is not part of a larger company with more than 500 workers (larger establishments fall under OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program). Currently, mobile worksites such as logging, longshoring, and construction are not eligible to participate in SHARP.

  • Have a lost workday incident (LWDI) rate above their industry's average or are on OSHA's high-hazard industry list.

  • Have been in operation for at least one year.

To become a candidate for SHARP, you need to contact OSHA for an onsite consultation. At the consultant's initial visit, you should indicate that your company would like to achieve SHARP recognition. During the year following the initial consultation, the SHARP project manager or consultant will work with your company, may schedule additional training, and provide assistance in meeting the program's safety and health requirements.

Employees must be aware that their company is participating in SHARP and that the hazards identified in the initial consultation visit have been or are in the process of being corrected. At the end of one year, if hazards that were found during the first visit remain uncorrected, the company may be referred to OSHA enforcement and recommendation for SHARP certification is unlikely.

The company must contact the Onsite Consultation service at the end of the one-year exemption period to request a second comprehensive safety review. This second visit is conducted to verify that all safety and health elements required under the program have been achieved. If the requirements are met, the company is recommended to receive the SHARP certification of recognition.

Once the certificate is awarded, your company must agree that it will call the consultation service for further assistance if new processes which could pose new hazards are introduced into the workplace. You must also agree to complete any remaining elements of an effective safety and health program within a reasonable time and allow an OSHA consultant to verify that the changes have been made.

While a company is a SHARP participant, OSHA retains the right to respond in the event of a catastrophic accident or formal complaint. Approval can be terminated any time an employer fails to meet the requirements of the program.

SHARP approval may be renewed for continued recognition and certification based on an exemplary safety and heath program that maintains LWDIs and IIRs (injury incidence rates) at or below the national average for that industry.

For more information on the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, contact your state OSHA Onsite Consultation Service.

Consultation Services | OSHA

Employers who want help in recognizing and correcting safety and health hazards and in improving their safety and health programs can get it from a free consultation service largely funded by the OSHA. The service is delivered by state governments using well trained professional staff.

To increase the usefulness of this effort, OSHA has broadened the scope of these services. The program now not only addresses immediate problems but also offers increased advice and help in maintaining continued effective protection.

Besides helping employers to identify and correct specific hazards, consultants provide guidance in establishing or improving an effective safety and health program and offer training and education for the employer, the employer's supervisors and employees.

The service is given chiefly at the worksite, but limited services may be provided away from the worksite. The service is confidential, too. Your name and firm and any information about your workplace, plus any unsafe or unhealthful working conditions that the consultant uncovers, will not be reported routinely to the OSHA inspection staff.

Primarily targeted for smaller businesses in higher hazard industries or with especially hazardous operations, the safety and health consultation program is completely separate from the inspection effort. In addition, no citations are issued or penalties proposed.

Your only obligation is a commitment to correct imminent dangers and other serious job safety and health hazards in a timely manner. You make this commitment before the consultant's visit.

Consultation is a cooperative approach to solving safety and health problems in the workplace. As a voluntary activity, it is neither automatic nor unexpected. You must request it.


If you know what the hazards in your workplace are and ways to remedy them, you will be in a better position to comply with job safety and health requirements. The more you know about the safety and health aspects of your company's operation — and ways to improve them — the better you can manage your firm in general. The consultation program provides professional advice and assistance without the need to hire additional staff. And the consultant's advice and assistance are free!

When a consultant helps set up or strengthen a workplace safety and health program, safety and health activities become routine considerations rather than crisis-oriented responses. And, in recognition of your efforts, you may be excluded from general schedule OSHA enforcement inspections for one year when you have a complete examination of your workplace, correct all identified hazards, post notice of their correction, and institute the core elements of an effective safety and health program.


Consultation is a two-way process — the consultant will be both student and teacher. Consultants carefully study each workplace and the employer's safety and health program in order to apply their professional expertise to its specific problems and unique operations.

Consultation can go beyond the usual physical survey of the workplace for violations of Federal or State OSHA standards. The consultant may also point out work practices that are likely to cause illness or injury and then advise and assist the employer in correcting them. And he or she may propose other measures directed toward improving a firm's occupational injury and illness experience, such as self-inspection, supervisory responsibility in promoting safety, safety and health training needs, posters to help in alerting workers to hazards, labor-management safety and health committees, and regular safety and health meetings with workers.

Comprehensive consultation services include the following:

  • An appraisal of all mechanical and environmental hazards and physical work practices;

  • An appraisal of the present job safety and health program or the establishment of one;

  • A conference with management on findings;

  • A written report of recommendations and agreements;

  • Training, and assistance with implementing recommendations; and

  • Follow-up to assure that any required corrections are made.

Getting Started

How does this process begin? Consultation starts with your request — by telephone call, correspondence or contact during a promotional visit conducted by a consultant.

Some services, such as a review of proposed new production processes from a safety and health point of view, may be conducted at locations away from the employer's worksite. When you request onsite services, the consultant will confer with you at the outset regarding the specific needs or concerns you describe. The consultant may also research any special problems you mention in the initial contact before scheduling a visit to your establishment.

Although the consultant may encourage you to include within the scope of such a request all working conditions at the worksite and your entire safety and health program, you do have the option to limit the visit to one or more specific problems. However, if the consultant observes hazards which are outside the scope of the request, he or she must notify you of their presence.

Opening Conference

Upon arrival at your worksite for a scheduled visit, the consultant will briefly review his or her role during the visit and may, if requested, review with you your safety and health program. The consultant will explain the relationship between onsite consultation and OSHA enforcement activity and further explain your obligation to protect employees in the event that serious hazardous conditions are identified. Also, he or she will explain that employee participation is encouraged during the consultation process.

Walking Through the Workplace

During this process, you and the consultant will examine conditions in your workplace. The consultant will identify any specific hazards and provide advice and assistance in establishing or improving your safety and health program and in correcting any hazardous conditions identified. At your request, assistance may also include education and training for you, your supervisor(s) and your employees.

OSHA strongly encourages, but does not require, worker participation in the walk through. Better informed and alert workers can more easily work with you to identify and correct potential injury and illness hazards. At a minimum, the consultant must be able to talk freely with workers during the walk through to help identify and judge the nature and extent of specific hazards and, where requested, to evaluate your safety and health program.

The consultant will study either your entire operation or focus on those areas, conditions, or hazards for which you have requested assistance. He or she will also offer advice and assistance on other safety or health hazards that might not be covered by current Federal or State OSHA standards but that still pose safety or health risks to your employees.

In a complete review of a company's operation, the consultant will look for mechanical and physical hazards by examining the structural condition of the building, the condition of the floors and stairs, and the exits and fire protection equipment. During the tour of the workplace, he or she will review the layout for adequate space in aisles and between machines, check equipment such as forklifts, and examine storage conditions. Control of electrical hazards and machine guards will also be considered.

The consultant will check the controls used to limit worker exposure to environmental hazards such as toxic substances and corrosives, especially air contaminants. He or she will check to see if all necessary technical and personal protective equipment is available and functioning properly. Also, the consultant will note any problems workers may encounter from exposure to noise, vibration, extreme temperatures, or unusual lighting on approaches, and offer means and techniques commonly used for the elimination or control of hazards.

Work practices, including the use, care, and maintenance of handtools and portable power tools, as well as general housekeeping, are of interest to the consultant. He or she will want to talk with you and with workers about items such as job training, supervision, safety and health orientation and procedures, and the maintenance and repair of equipment.

In addition, the consultant will want to know about any on-going safety and health program your firm has developed. If your firm does not have a program or you would like to make improvements, the consultant will, at your request, offer advice and technical assistance on establishing a program or improving it. Management and worker attitude toward safety and health will be considered in this analysis, as well as current injury and illness data. The consultant also will need to know about how you and your employees communicate about safety and health as well as any in-plant safety and health inspection programs.

Closing Conference

Following the walk through, the consultant will meet with you in a closing conference. This session offers the consultant an opportunity to discuss measures that are already effective and any practices that warrant improvement. During this time, you and the consultant can discuss problems, possible solutions, and time frames for eliminating or controlling any serious hazards identified during the walk through.

In rare instances, the consultant may find an "imminent danger" situation during the walk through. In such situations, an employer must take immediate action to protect all affected workers. If the consultant finds a hazard that is considered to be a "serious violation" under OSHA criteria, he or she will work with you to develop a mutually acceptable plan and schedule to eliminate or control that hazard. During this time, OSHA encourages you to advise all affected employees of the hazards and to notify them when the hazards are corrected. Consultants offer general approaches and options as well as technical assistance on the correction of hazards when they have the expertise. As necessary, consultants will recommend other sources for specialized technical help.

The consultant may also offer suggestions for establishing, modifying, or adding to the company's safety and health program in order to make such programs more effective. Such suggestions could include: worker training, changing work practices, methods for holding supervisors and employees accountable for safety and health, and various methods of promoting safety and health.

Hazard Correction and Program Assistance

After the closing conference, the consultant will send you a written report explaining the findings and confirming any correction periods agreed upon. The report may also include suggested means or approaches for eliminating or controlling hazards as well as recommendations for making your safety and health program effective. You are, of course, free to contact consultants for additional assistance at any time.

Ultimately, OSHA does require completed action on serious hazards so that each consultation visit achieves its objective — effective worker protection. If an employer fails or refuses to eliminate or control an identified serious hazard (or any imminent danger) according to the plan and any extensions granted subsequently, that situation would have to be referred from consultation to an OSHA enforcement office for review and action as appropriate. This is a rare occurrence.

Inspection Exemption

Employers who receive a comprehensive consultation visit, correct all identified hazards, and institute the core elements of an effective safety and health program may be awarded a certificate of recognition by OSHA signifying a one-year exemption from general schedule enforcement inspections. However, inspections prompted by an employee complaint or by a fatality or catastrophe would not be exempted under this program.

Employers who elect to pursue this exemption must post of notice of participation as well as a notice of correction of all hazards found.

Once the certificate is awarded, participants must agree that they will call the consultant for further assistance if new processes which could pose new hazards are introduced into the workplace. They must also agree to complete the remaining elements of an effective safety and health program within a reasonable time.

For the moment, the exemption provision applies only to fixed worksites. Inclusion of construction and other mobile worksites is under review. This exemption provision applies only in states under Federal OSHA enforcement. Similar provisions may be adopted by states with state enforcement plans.

OSHA may limit eligibility for the program to smaller companies. Recognition for larger and smaller companies is available through the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP). In fact, employers who successfully participate in the exemption through consultation may wish to move into a VPP.


The Consultation Program provides several benefits for you as an employer. Onsite consultants WILL:

  • Help you to recognize hazards in your workplace.

  • Suggest approaches or options for solving a safety or health problem.

  • Identify sources of help available to you if you need further assistance.

  • Provide you with a written report that summarizes these findings.

  • Assist you in developing or maintaining an effective safety and health program.

  • Offer training and education for you and your employees at your workplace, and in some cases away from the site.

  • Under specified circumstances, recommend you for recognition by OSHA and a one-year exclusion from general schedule enforcement inspections.

Consultants WILL NOT:

  • Issue citations or propose penalties for violations of Federal or State OSHA standards.

  • Routinely report possible violations to OSHA enforcement staff.

  • Guarantee that any workplace will "pass" a Federal or State OSHA inspection.

Additional Information

Consultation is a highly successful program that generates employer response. If you would like to receive additional information, contact one of the following consultation programs or your OSHA Regional Office.

Popular Posts