Different Types of OSHA Inspections

If you own or operate a workplace, understanding the different types of OSHA inspections is essential. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces safety standards in American workplaces to minimize worker risks. Depending on your workplace’s activities and size, OSHA conducts either programmed or unprogrammed inspections — each having its own purpose and set of criteria for compliance.

Different Types of OSHA Inspections

In this blog post, we’ll explain exactly what both types of inspections are, their differences, and how you can ensure that your business meets these safety requirements. Understanding these regulations is paramount, as failing an inspection could mean fines for noncompliance.

Unprogrammed Inspections

Unprogrammed Inspections, also known as a complaint or referral inspections, occur due to complaints or referrals made to OSHA by employees, employers, members of the public, or other government agencies. These inspections can be performed without prior notice to the employer and typically involve examining a workplace for any potential hazards that could be present. Unprogrammed inspections are also triggered by reports of serious accidents or fatalities that occur at a workplace.

This type of inspection responds to the following four priorities:

  1. Imminent Danger
  2. Fatalities/catastrophes
  3. Complaints/Referrals
  4. Programmed Inspections

Programmed Inspections

Programmed Inspections are initiated and performed on a fixed schedule or according to specific criteria. Programmed inspections involve examining workplaces randomly selected from a predetermined list of businesses to ensure compliance with safety regulations.

These inspections are typically conducted by OSHA staff who visit the premises and perform an inspection based on specific criteria. The criteria vary depending on the industry and activity taking place at the workplace. Programmed inspections are generally performed without any prior notification to employers.

On-site OSHA Inspections

OSHA inspectors, called Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs), are experienced, well-trained industrial hygienists and safety professionals whose goal is to assure compliance with OSHA requirements. OSHA conducts inspections without advanced notice. Employers have the right to require compliance officers to obtain an inspection warrant before entering the worksite.

  • Preparation: Before conducting an inspection, OSHA compliance officers research the inspection history of a worksite using various data sources and review the operations and processes in use and the standards most likely to apply.
  • Presentation of credentials: The on-site inspection begins with the compliance officer’s credentials, which include a photograph and a serial number.
  • Opening Conference: During the opening conference, the compliance officer will explain why OSHA selected the workplace for inspection and describe the scope of the inspection, walkaround procedures, employee representation, and employee interviews. The employer selects a representative to accompany the compliance officer during the inspection.
  • Walkaround: Following the opening conference, the compliance officer and the representatives will walk through the portions of the workplace covered by the inspection, inspecting for hazards that could lead to employee injury or illness. During the walkaround, compliance officers may point out some apparent violations that can be corrected immediately. While the law requires that these hazards must still be cited, prompt correction is a sign of good faith on the employer’s part.
  • Closing Conference: After the walkaround, the compliance officer holds a closing conference with the employer and the employee representatives to discuss the findings. The compliance officer discusses possible courses of action an employer may take following an inspection, including an informal conference with OSHA or contesting citations and proposed penalties.
  • Results: When an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, OSHA may issue citations and fines. Citations describe OSHA requirements allegedly violated, list any proposed penalties, and give a deadline for correcting the alleged hazards.
  • Appeals: When OSHA issues a citation, it also offers the employer an opportunity for an informal conference with the OSHA Area Director to discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates, or any other information pertinent to the inspection. The agency and the employer may work out a settlement agreement to resolve and eliminate the hazard.

Employers have 15 working days after receipt of citations and proposed penalties to formally contest the alleged violations and/or penalties by sending a written notice to the Area Director.

Who Is Allowed To Carry Out A Scaffold Inspection


The following general information on citations and penalties describes the types of violations. It explains the employer’s actions if they receive a citation due to an inspection. In settling a penalty, OSHA has a policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith. For employer responsibilities, see OSHA Publication 3000, Employer Rights and Responsibilities.

  • Willful violation: A willful violation is cited when the employer intentionally and knowingly commits the violation. It is also cited when the employer commits a violation with plain indifference to the law.
  • Repeated violation: This violation is cited by OSHA when similar to a similar or previous violation.
  • Serious violation: OSHA cites a severe violation where there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.
  • Other-than-serious violation: An other-than-serious violation is cited when the violation directly relates to safety and health but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.
  • De Minimis: De minimis conditions are when an employer has implemented a measure different from one specified in a standard with no direct or immediate relationship to safety or health. These conditions do not result in citations or penalties.
  • Failure to Abate. A failure to abate violation exists when a previously cited hazardous condition, practice, or non-complying equipment has not been complied with since the prior inspection (i.e., the violation remains continuously uncorrected) and is discovered at a later inspection.


The penalties that OSHA assesses are based on the type of violation. In settling a penalty, OSHA has a policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith. For serious violations, OSHA may also reduce the proposed penalty based on the gravity of the alleged violation. No reasonable faith adjustment will be made for alleged willful violations. No reasonable faith adjustment will be made for alleged willful violations. Below are the penalty amounts as of 2021:

  • Serious and other-than-serious violations: OSHA may propose penalties of up to $13,653 for each serious, other-than-serious, and repeated violation.
  • Failure to abate. When the employer fails to abate a violation, a maximum of $13,653 may be proposed per day. The violation remains unabated beyond the abatement date. Generally, there is a 30-day maximum limit.
  • Willful or repeated violations: OSHA may propose penalties of up to $136,532 for each willful or repeated violation.
  • OSHA cites employers, not employees: It is essential to know that the OSHA Act does not provide for the issuance of citations or the proposal of penalties against employees. Employers are responsible for employee compliance with the standards.
  • Penalty Adjustments: OSHA may apply penalty adjustments that vary depending on the employer’s size (maximum number of employees), good faith, and the history of previous violations. Adjustments based on the number of employees may be applied as follows:
  • 70 percent for employers with 1-10 employees
  • 60 percent for employers with 11-25 employees
  • 30 percent for employers with 26-100 employees
  • 10 percent for employers with 101-250 employees
  • 10 percent for employers with 101-250 workers

Employers should ensure they follow all OSHA regulations and provide a safe working environment to avoid potential fines or penalties. Taking the necessary steps to comply with safety regulations, such as providing appropriate training and protective equipment, can help employers pass OSHA inspections without any issues. Knowing the differences between programmed and unprogrammed inspections is essential for employers to ensure workplace safety.

By understanding both types of OSHA inspections, you can ensure that your workplace remains compliant with safety regulations. This will not only help you avoid fines or penalties, but will also provide peace of mind to both employees and employers alike. Taking the necessary steps to be compliant with OSHA standards is essential for any business looking to remain safe and profitable.

About Waqar Ali

My name is Waqar and I am a Health and Safety Advisor at Laing O'Rourke, one of the leading construction companies in the UK. I have always been passionate about safety and have pursued a career in this field to make a positive impact on people's lives.

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