How Does OSHA Enforce its Standards?

How Does OSHA Enforce its Standards?

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There is some element of risk involved with any job. But it is also true that some professions are inherently more dangerous than others. From construction to manufacturing, employees routinely work in and around hazardous materials and equipment, in trenches and excavation sites, at height, and on the road. It is your responsibility as an employer to ensure that work conditions are as safe and healthful as possible, mitigating or eliminating risks and taking actions to keep your people from harm to the extent that you can. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plays a key role in making sure this happens on the job, every day. But how does OSHA enforce its standards?


OSHA Standards for Workplace Safety and Health 


OSHA’s mission:


To ensure that employees work in a safe and healthful environment by setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training outreach, education, and assistance. Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards. They must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of recognized hazards.


OSHA implements standards that cover a wide variety of hazards, including requirements that employers provide fall protection, put guards on machines, provide PPE, including respirators and other safety equipment, and that they provide training for certain jobs deemed “dangerous.” So, what’s the General Duty Clause? As mentioned, it requires that employers have to keep their job sites/workplaces free from recognized hazards. If an inspection finds that no specific OSHA standards apply to a particular hazard, the General Duty Clause acts as sort of an umbrella, and will likely be cited.

So, getting back to how does OSHA enforce its standards?

How Does OSHA Enforce Its Standards? 


OSHA employees are highly trained compliance officers who carry out inspections. Usually, these are triggered by a complaint. For example, an employee may complain that their employer does not have adequate protections in place to prevent trench collapses. Compliance officers evaluate the complaint and often initiate an inspection. The employer does not have prior notice of the inspection.

OSHA compliance officers prioritize their inspections based on:


  • Imminent Danger. Are there any risks that could cause serious physical harm or even death?
  • Severe Injuries and Illnesses. Employers are required to report all work-related fatalities within 8 hours, all work-related amputations or losses of an eye within 24 hours, and all work-related hospitalizations (in-patient) within 24 hours.
  • Worker Complaints. Compliance officers prioritize complaints from workers. Employees may choose to remain anonymous when making complaints.
  • Referrals. OSHA may inspect a workplace if they receive information from individuals, organizations, the media, or federal/state/local agencies regarding hazards. 
  • Targeted Inspections. These are focused on specific workplaces that are considered “high hazard industries” 
  • Follow-Up. If violations are found during an inspection, a follow-up is scheduled to check that steps have been taken to address the issue(s).


After an inspection, the OSHA compliance officer has a “closing conference” with the employer (or their representative) and an employee representative. They will explain the process clearly, cover any violations uncovered, ask for input on timelines for addressing the issue(s), and provide employers with a guide (Employer Rights & Responsibilities Following an OSHA Inspection).


Next, there is an “abatement period.”  This is the time in which the employer can resolve issues and mitigate/eliminate hazards so they are comply with OSHA standards. Most can be addressed within 30 days or less. OSHA compliance offers also offer suggestions for abatement, which can help guide employers as they work towards compliance. Employers do not have to use these suggestions – but it is often in their best interest to do so. OSHA will continue to work with them so they effectively remedy violations. 


If the compliance officer issues a citation that indicates that an employer has to submit an abatement plan for each violation, they will have a specific timeframe in which to do this (which will be noted on the citation and discussed at the closing conference). At this time, they may also issue fines, which are usually assessed per violation.


Can you ignore OSHA and continue business as usual? At your peril. The fine for failure to comply is $14,502 per day beyond the abatement date. Every day, you incur higher penalties; for small businesses, these can be devastating. There is also the matter of the damage your reputation takes. You can’t afford to ignore OSHA.


Fortunately, though, OSHA does provide employers with guidance and assistance, including free onsite consultations for smaller businesses (fewer than 250 employees at a workplace and no more than 500 nationwide), compliance assistance, and cooperate programs to address serious hazards in the workplace and implement effective programs to prevent harm.


Staying In Compliance


Complying with OSHA standards is essential no matter how you look at it – from finances and legal standpoints to the life and well-being of your team. There are resources available to help you navigate the complexities, and Labor for Hire offers comprehensive training to ensure you are up-to-date, informed, and in line with requirements. Contact us today!