The Occupational Safety and Health Administration aims to ensure employee safety and health in the United States by working with employers and employees to create better working environments. Since its inception in 1971, OSHA has helped to cut workplace fatalities by more than 60 percent and occupational injury and illness rates by 40 percent. At the same time, U.S. employment has increased from 56 million employees at 3.5 million worksites to more than 135 million employees at 8.9 million sites.

In Fiscal Year 2007, OSHA had 2,150 employees, including 1,100 inspectors. The agency's appropriation is $486.9 million.

Under the current administration, OSHA is focusing on three strategies: 1) strong, fair and effective enforcement; 2) outreach, education and compliance assistance; and 3) partnerships and cooperative programs. 

The federal government’s fiscal year 2010 ended Sept. 30. That timing allowed OSHA officials to present preliminary numbers on 2010 enforcement at this year’s National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expo. As expected, the numbers are up, but by how much?

In FY 2009, OSHA conducted 39,004 inspections. The final count for 2010 is expected to be just over 41,000. That would amount to a 5% increase.

Companies received 87,663 violations from OSHA in FY 2009. That’s up to 94,103 in 2010, a 7% increase.

The average fine for a serious violation in 2009 was $970. It went up to $1,028 in 2010, a 6% increase. Starting Jan. 13, 2017, the fines were raised to $12,675! OSHA instituted changes in the way it discounts fines using such factors as history, company size and quick abatement. Those administrative changes are expected to boost the average serious fine to almost $3,000. OSHA administrator David Michaels said at the NSC conference that there are no further changes expected in fine calculations at this time.

The average serious fine issued by the 27 states that have their own OSHA program is about $800. OSHA says it plans to bring the states in line with the federal program on fines.

The number of significant cases — those with fines totaling more than $100,000 — was also up, from 120 in 2009 to 164 in 2010, a 37% increase.


A strong, fair and effective enforcement program establishes the foundation for OSHA's efforts to protect the safety and health of the nation's working men and women. OSHA seeks to assist the majority of employers who want to do the right thing while focusing its enforcement resources on sites in more hazardous industries -- especially those with high injury and illness rates. Less than 1 percent of inspections -- about 467 (FY 2006) -- came under the agency's Enhanced Enforcement Program, designed to address employers who repeatedly and willfully violate the law. At the same time, injuries and illnesses continue to decline. 

Authority to Inspect

To enforce it's standards, OSHA is authorized under the Act to conduct workplace inspections. Every establishment covered by the Act is subject to inspection by OSHA compliance safety and health officers, who are chosen for their knowledge and experience in the occupational safety and health field. Compliance officers are vigorously trained in OSHA standards and in recognition of safety and health hazards, Similarly, states with their own compliance and safety officers. Under the Act, "upon presenting appropriate credentials to the owner, operator or agent in charge," an OSHA compliance officer is authorized to:

"Enter without delay and at reasonable times any factory, plant, establishment, construction site or other areas, workplace, or environment where work is performed by an employee of an employer; and to
"Inspect and investigate during regular working hours, and at other reasonable times, and within reasonable limits and in a reasonable manner, any such place of employment and all pertinent conditions, structures, machines, apparatus, devices, equipment and materials therein, and to question privately any such employer, owner, operator, agent or employee."

Inspections are conducted without advance notice. There are, however, special circumstances under which OSHA may indeed give notice tothe employer, but even then, such a notice will be less than 24 hours. These special circumstances include:

Imminent danger situations which require correction as soon as possible;
Inspections that must take place after regular business hours, or that require special preparation;
Cases where notice is required to ensure that the employer and employee representative or other personnel will be present; and/or
Situations in which the OSHA area director determines that advance notice would produce a more thorough or effective inspection.

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

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

State Inspections - FY 2006
58,058 Inspections


Violations Percent Type Current Penalties
160 (0.1%) Willful $3,789,675
57,722 (45.3%) Serious $52,390,366
2,497 (1.9%) Repeat $4,880,817
409 (0.3%) Failure to Abate $2,025,296
66,456 (52.2%) Other $7,891,373
40 (0%) Unclassified $59,829
127,284 TOTAL $71,037,356

Number Percent Reason for Inspection
13,657 (23%) Complaint/accident-related
35,393 (60%) High hazard targeted
9,008 (15%) Referrals, follow-ups, etc.


These are the types of violations that may be cited and the penalties that may be proposed:

Other Than Serious Violation - A violation that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm. A proposed penalty of up to $12,471 for each violation is discretionary. A penalty for an other-than-serious violation may be adjusted downward by as much as 95 percent, depending on the employer's good faith (demonstrated efforts to comply with the Act), history of previous violations, and size of business. When the adjusted penalty amounts to less than $100, no penalty is proposed.
Serious Violation - A violation where there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard. A mandatory penalty of up to $12,471 for each violation is proposed. A penalty for a serious violation may be adjusted downward, based on the employer's good faith, history of previous violations, the gravity of the alleged violation, and size of business.
Willful Violation - A violation that the employer knowingly commits or commits with plain indifference to the law. The employer either knows that what he or she is doing constitutes a violation, or is aware that a hazardous condition existed and made no reasonable effort to eliminate it.

Penalties of up to $124,709 may be proposed for each willful violation, with a minimum penalty of $5,000 for each violation. A proposed penalty for a willful violation may be adjusted downward, depending on the size of the business and its history of previous violations. Usually, no credit is given for good faith.

If an employer is convicted of a willful violation of a standard that has resulted in the death of an employee, the offense is punishable by a court-imposed fine or by imprisonment for up to six months, or both. A fine of up to $250,000 for an individual, or $500,000 for a corporation, may be imposed for a criminal conviction.
Repeated Violation - A violation of any standard, regulation, rule, or order where, upon reinspection, a substantially similar violation can bring a fine of up to $70,000 for each such violation. To be the basis of a repeated citation, the original citation must be final; a citation under contest may not serve as the basis for a subsequent repeated citation.
Failure to Abate Prior Violation - Failure to abate a prior violation may bring a civil penalty of up to $7,000 for each day the violation continues beyond the prescribed abatement date.
De Minimis Violation - De minimis violations are violations of standards which have no direct or immediate relationship to safety or health. Whenever de minimis conditions are found during an inspection, they are documented in the same way as any other violation, but are not included on the citation.

Additional violations for which citations and proposed penalties may be issued upon conviction:

Falsifying records, reports or applications can bring a fine of $10,000 or up to six months in jail, or both.
Violations of posting requirements can bring a civil penalty of up to $7,000.
Assaulting a compliance officer, or otherwise resisting, opposing, intimidating, or interfering with a compliance officer while they are engaged in the performance of their duties is a criminal offense, subject to a fine of not more than $5,000 and imprisonment for not more than three years.

Citation and penalty procedures may differ somewhat in states with their own occupational safety and health programs.

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