OSHA Field Inspection Reference Manual CPL 2.103
Section 5 - Chapter I. Pre-Inspection Procedures

OSHA Field Inspection Reference Manual - Table of ContentsOSHA Field Inspection Reference Manual - Table of Contents
  • Chapter Number: I
  • Chapter Title: Pre-Inspection Procedures

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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and no longer represents OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

                           CHAPTER I 


A. General Responsibilities and Administrative Procedures. The following are brief descriptions of the general responsibilities for positions within OSHA. Reference OSHA Instruction ADM 11.3A for complete information on OSHA mission and function statements. Employees should refer to their position descriptions for individual job responsibilities. This document empowers OSHA personnel to make decisions as situations warrant with the ability to act efficiently to accomplish the mission of OSHA and to enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

1. Regional Administrator. It is the duty or mission of the Regional Administrator to manage, execute and evaluate all programs of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the region. The Regional Administrator reports to the Assistant Secretary through the career Deputy Assistant Secretary.

2. Area Director (AD). It is the duty or mission of the Area Director to accomplish OSHA's programs within the delegated area of responsibility of the Area Office. This includes administrative and technical support of the Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) assigned to the Area Office, and the issuing of citations.

3. Assistant Area Director (AAD). The Assistant Area Director has first level supervisory responsibility over CSHOs in the discharge of their duties and may also conduct compliance inspections. Assistant Area Directors ensure technical adequacy in applying the policies and procedures in effect in the Agency. The Assistant Area Director shall implement a quality assurance system suitable to the work group, including techniques such as random review of selected files, review based on CSHO recommendation/request, and verbal briefing by CSHOs and/or review of higher profile or non-routine cases.

4. Compliance Safety and Health Officer.

a. General. The primary responsibility of the Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) is to carry out the mandate given to the Secretary of Labor, namely, "to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions...." To accomplish this mandate the Occupational Safety and Health Administration employs a wide variety of programs and initiatives, one of which is enforcement of standards through the conduct of effective inspections to determine whether employers are:

(1) Furnishing places of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to their employees, and

(2) Complying with safety and health standards and regulations.

Through inspections and other employee/employer contact, the CSHO can help ensure that hazards are identified and abated to protect workers. During these processes, the CSHO must use professional judgment to adequately document hazards in the case file, as required by the policies and procedures in effect in the Agency. The CSHO will be responsible for the technical adequacy of each case file.

A. 4. b. Subpoena Served on CSHO. If a CSHO is served with a subpoena, the Area Director shall be informed immediately and shall refer the matter to the Regional Solicitor.

c. Testifying in Hearings. The CSHO is required to testify in hearings on OSHA's behalf. The CSHO shall be mindful of this fact when recording observations during inspections. The case file shall reflect conditions observed in the workplace as accurately as possible. If the CSHO is called upon to testify, the case file will be invaluable as a means for recalling actual conditions.

d. Release of Inspection Information. The information obtained during inspections is confidential, but is to be determined as disclosable or nondisclosable on the basis of criteria established in the Freedom of Information Act, as amended, in 29 CFR Part 70, and in Chapter XIV of OSHA Instruction CPL 2.45B or a superseding directive. Requests for release of inspection information shall be directed to the Area Director.

e. Disposition of Inspection Records. "Inspection Records" are any records made by a CSHO that concern, relate to, or are part of any inspection or that concern, relate to, or are part of the performance of any official duty. Such original material and all copies shall be included in the case file. These records are the property of the United States Government and a part of the case file. Inspection records are not the property of the CSHO and under no circumstances are they to be retained or used for any private purpose. Copies of documents, notes or other recorded information not necessary or pertinent, or not suitable for inclusion in the case file shall, with the concurrence and permission of the Area Director, be destroyed in accordance with an approved record disposition schedule.

5. General Area Office Responsibilities. The Area Director shall ensure that the Area Office maintains an outreach program appropriate to local conditions and the needs of the service area. The plan may include utilization of Regional Office Support Services, training and education services, referral services, voluntary compliance programs, abatement assistance, and technical services.

B. Inspection Scheduling.

1. Program Planning. Effective and efficient use of resources requires careful, flexible planning. In this way, the overall goal of hazard abatement and worker protection is best served.

2. Inspection/Investigation Types.

a. Unprogrammed. Inspections scheduled in response to alleged hazardous working conditions that have been identified at a specific worksite are unprogrammed. This type of inspection responds to reports of imminent dangers, fatalities/catastrophes, complaints and referrals. It also includes followup and monitoring inspections scheduled by the Area Office.

NOTE: This category includes all employers directly affected by the subject of the unprogrammed activity, and is especially applicable on multiemployer worksites.

b. Unprogrammed Related. Inspections of employers at multiemployer worksites whose operations are not directly affected by the subject of the conditions identified in the complaint, accident, or referral are unprogrammed related. An example would be a trenching inspection conducted at the unprogrammed worksite, where the trenching hazard was not identified in the complaint, accident report, or referral.

c. Programmed. Inspections of worksites which have been scheduled based upon objective or neutral selection criteria are programmed. The worksites are selected according to national scheduling plans for safety and for health or special emphasis programs.

d. Programmed Related. Inspections of employers at multiemployer worksites whose activities were not included in the programmed assignment, such as a low injury rate employer at a worksite where programmed inspections are being conducted for all high injury rate employers. All high hazard employers at the worksite shall normally be included in the programmed inspections. (See Chapter II, F.2. of OSHA Instruction CPL 2.45B or a superseding directive).

B. 3. Inspection Priorities.

a. Order of Priority. Generally, priority of accomplishment and assignment of staff resources for inspection categories shall be as follows:

Priority Category

First Imminent Danger

Second Fatality/Catastrophe Investigations

Third Complaints/Referrals Investigation

Fourth Programmed Inspections

b. Efficient Use of Resources. Based on the nature of the alleged hazard, unprogrammed inspections normally shall be scheduled and conducted prior to programmed inspections. Deviations from this priority list are allowed so long as they are justifiable, lead to efficient use of resources, and contribute to the effective protection of workers. An example of such a deviation would be for Area Directors to commit a certain percentage of IH resources to programmed Local Emphasis Program (LEP) inspections.

c. Followup Inspections. In cases where followup inspections are necessary, they shall be conducted as promptly as resources permit. Except in unusual circumstances, followup inspections shall take priority over all programmed inspections and any unprogrammed inspections with hazards evaluated as other than serious. Followup inspections should not normally be conducted within the 15 working day contest period unless high gravity serious violations were issued. See Chapter IV at A.4. regarding effect of contest upon abatement period.

4. Inspection Selection Criteria.

a. General Requirements. OSHA's priority system for conducting inspections is designed to distribute available OSHA resources as effectively as possible to ensure that maximum feasible protection is provided to the working men and women of this country.

(1) Scheduling. The Area Director shall ensure that inspections are scheduled within the framework of this chapter, that they are consistent with the objectives of the Agency, and that appropriate documentation of scheduling practices is maintained. (See OSHA Instruction CPL 2.51H, or most current version, for congressional exemptions and limitations on OSHA inspection activity.)

B. 4. a. (2) Effective Use of Resources. The Area Director shall ensure that OSHA resources are effectively distributed during inspection activities. If an inspection is of a complex nature, the Area Director may consider utilizing outside OSHA resources (e.g., the Health Response Team) to more effectively employ the Area or District Office resources. The Area Office will retain control of the inspection.

(3) Effect of Contest. If an employer scheduled for inspection, either programmed or unprogrammed, has contested a citation and/or a penalty received as a result of a previous inspection and the case is still pending before the Review Commission, the following guidelines apply:

(a) If the employer has contested the penalty only, the inspection shall be scheduled as though there were no contest.

(b) If the employer has contested the citation itself or any items thereon, then programmed and unprogrammed inspections shall be scheduled in accordance with the guidelines in B.3.a. of this chapter. The scope of unprogrammed inspections normally shall be partial. All items under contest shall be excluded from the inspection unless a potential imminent danger is involved.

b. Employer Contacts. Contacts for information initiated by employers or their representatives shall not trigger an inspection, nor shall such employer inquiries protect them against regular inspections conducted pursuant to guidelines established by the agency. Further, if an employer or its representative indicates that an imminent danger exists or that a fatality or catastrophe has occurred, the Area Director shall act in accordance with established inspection priority procedures.

C. Complaints & Other Unprogrammed Inspections.

1. General. This section relates to information received and processed at the area office before an inspection rather than information which is given to the CSHO during an inspection. Complaints will be evaluated according to local Area Office procedures, including using the criteria established in Chapter III, C.2. for classifying the alleged violations as serious or other. When essential information is not provided by the complainant, the complaint is too vague to evaluate, or the Area Office has other specific information that the complaint is not valid, an attempt shall be made to clarify or supplement available information. If a decision is made that the complaint is not valid, a letter will be sent to the complainant advising of the decision and its reasons.

C. 2. Definitions.

a. Complaint (OSHA-7). Notice of an alleged hazard (over which OSHA has jurisdiction), or a violation of the Act, given by a past or present employee, a representative of employees, a concerned citizen, or an 11(c) officer seeking resolution of a discrimination complaint.

b. Referral (OSHA-90). Notice of an alleged hazard or a violation of the Act given by any source not listed under C.2.a., above, including media reports.

c. Formal Complaint. A signed complaint alleging an imminent danger or the existence of a violation threatening physical harm, submitted by a current employee, a representative of employees (such as unions, attorneys, elected representatives, and family members), or present employee of another company if that employee is exposed to the hazards of the complained-about workplace. Reference Section 8(f) of the Act and 29 CFR 1903.11.

d. Nonformal Complaint. Oral or unsigned complaints, or complaints by former employees or non-employees.

3. Identity of Complainant. The identity of the complainant shall be kept confidential unless otherwise requested by the complainant, in accordance with Section 8(f)(1) of the Act. No information shall be given to employers which would allow them to identify the complainant.

4. Formalizing Oral Complaints.

a. If the complainant meets the criteria in C.2.c., above, for filing formal complaints and wishes to formalize an oral complaint, all pertinent information will be entered on an OSHA-7 form, or equivalent, by the complainant or a member of the Area Office staff. A copy of this completed form can be sent to the complainant for signature, or the complainant shall be asked to sign a letter with the particular details of the complaint to the area office.

b. The complainant shall be informed that, if the signed complaint is not returned within 10 working days, it shall be treated as a nonformal complaint. If the signed complaint arrives after the 10 working days but prior to OSHA's contact with the employer, it will be treated as a formal complaint.

c. The following are examples of deficiencies which would result in the failure of an apparent formal complaint to meet the requirements of the definition:

(1) A thorough evaluation of the complaint does not establish reasonable grounds to believe that the alleged violation can be classified as an imminent danger or that the alleged hazard is covered by a standard or, in the case of an alleged serious condition, by the general duty clause (Section 5(a)(1)).

(2) The complaint concerns a workplace condition which has no direct relationship to safety or health and does not threaten physical harm; e.g., a violation of a regulation or a violation of a standard that is classified as de minimis.

(3) The complaint alleges a hazard which violates a standard but describes no actual workplace conditions and gives no particulars which would allow a proper evaluation of the hazard. In such a case the Area Director shall make a reasonable attempt to obtain such information.

Note: See CPL 02-00-140

C. 5. Imminent Danger Report Received By the Field. Any allegation of imminent danger received by an OSHA office shall be handled in accordance with the following procedures:

a. The Area Director shall immediately determine whether there is a reasonable basis for the allegation.

b. Imminent danger investigations shall be scheduled with the highest priority.

c. When an immediate inspection cannot be made, the Area Director or CSHO shall contact the employer (and when known, the employee representative) immediately, obtain as many pertinent details as possible concerning the situation and attempt to have any employees affected by imminent danger voluntarily removed. Such notification shall be considered advance notice and shall be handled in accordance with the procedures given in E.3. of this chapter.

6. Formal Complaints. All formal complaints meeting the requirements of Section 8(f)(1) of the Act and 29 CFR 1903.11 shall be scheduled for workplace inspections.

a. Determination. Upon determination by the Assistant Area Director that a complaint is formal, an inspection shall be scheduled in accordance with the priorities in C.6.b.

b. Priorities for Responding by Inspections to Formal Complaints. Inspections resulting from formal complaints shall be conducted according to the following priority:

(1) Formal complaints, other than imminent danger, shall be given a priority based upon the classification and the gravity of the alleged hazards as defined in Chapters III and IV.

(2) Formal serious complaints shall be investigated on a priority basis within 30 working days and formal other-than-serious complaints within 120 days.

(3) If resources do not permit investigations within the time frames given in (2), a letter to the complainant shall explain the delay and shall indicate when an investigation may occur. The complainant shall be asked to confirm the continuation of the alleged hazardous conditions.

(4) If a late complaint inspection is to be conducted, the Area Director may contact the complainant to ensure that the alleged hazards are still existent.

C. 7. Nonformal Complaints.

a. Serious. If a decision is made to handle a serious nonformal complaint by letter, a certified letter shall be sent to the employer advising the employer of the complaint items and the need to respond to OSHA within a specified time. When applicable, the employer shall be informed of Section 11(c) requirements, and that the complainant will be kept informed of the complaint progress. Follow-up contact may be by telephone at the option of the Area Office.

b. Other-Than-Serious and De Minimis. Nonformal complaints about other-than-serious hazards or de minimis conditions may be investigated by telephone if they can be satisfactorily resolved in that manner, with follow-up telephone contact to the complainant with the results of the employer's investigation and corrective actions. Corrective action shall be documented in the case file. If, however, the telephone contact is inadequate, a letter will be sent to the employer.

c. Letter to Complainant. Concurrent with the letter to the employer, a letter to the complainant shall be sent containing a copy of the letter to the employer. The complainant will be asked to notify OSHA if no corrective action is taken within the indicated time frame, or if any adverse or discriminatory action or threats are made due to the complainant's safety and health activities. Copies of subsequent correspondence related to the complaint shall be sent to the complainant, if requested.

d. Inspection of Nonformal Complaint.

(1) Where the employer fails to respond or submits an inadequate response, the employer may be contacted to find out what corrections will be made, or the nonformal complaint will be activated for inspection. If no action has been taken, the nonformal complaint shall normally be activated for inspection.

(2) Nonformal complaints, when received by the Area Office, may be activated for inspection if the Area Director or representative judges the hazard to be high gravity serious in nature, and the inspection can be performed with efficient use of resources.

C. 8. Results of Inspection to Complainant. After an inspection, the complainant shall be sent a letter addressing each complaint item, with reference to the citations and/or with a sufficiently detailed description of the findings and why they did not result in a violation. The complainant shall also be informed of the appeal rights under 29 CFR 1903.12.

Note: See CPL 02-00-140

9. Discrimination Complaints. The complainant shall be advised of the protection against discrimination afforded by Section 11(c) of the Act and shall be informed of the procedure for filing an 11(c) complaint.

a. Safety and/or health complaints filed by former employees who allege that they were fired for exercising their rights under the Act are nonformal complaints and will not be scheduled for investigation.

(1) Such complaints shall be recorded on an OSHA-7 Form and handled in accordance with the procedures outlined in OSHA Instruction DIS .4B. They shall be transmitted to the appropriate 11(c) personnel for investigation of the alleged 11(c) discrimination complaint.

(2) No letter shall be sent to the employer until after the Regional Supervisory Investigator has reviewed the case and decided that no recommendation for inspection will be submitted to the Area Director.

(3) This screening process by the Regional Supervisory Investigator is not anticipated to take more than 3 work days and usually less. The Area Director can expect to be informed by telephone of the decision within that time frame.

b. In those instances where the Regional Supervisory Investigator determines that the existence or nature of the alleged hazard is likely to be relevant to the resolution of the 11(c) discrimination complaint, the complaint shall be sent back to the Area Director for an OSHA inspection to be handled as a referral.

c. When the decision is that no inspection is necessary, the Area Director shall ensure that the complaint has been recorded on an OSHA-7 Form and proceed to send a letter to the employer in accordance with procedures for responding to nonformal complaints.

d. Any 11(c) complaint alleging an imminent danger shall be handled in accordance with the instructions in C.5.

C. 10. Referrals. Referrals shall be handled in a manner similar to that of complaints.

a. Letters. Referrals shall normally be handled by letter or telephone. For those referrals handled by letter, complaint letters can be revised to fit the particular circumstances of the referral.

b. Inspections. High gravity serious referrals shall normally be handled by inspection. A letter transmitting the results of the investigation shall be sent to any referring agency/department.

Note: See CPL 02-00-140

11. Accidents. Accidents involving significant publicity or any other accident not involving a fatality or a catastrophe, however reported, may be considered as either a complaint or a referral, depending on the source of the report, and shall be handled according to the directions given in Chapter II.

D. Programmed Inspections.

1. Programmed inspections shall be scheduled in accordance with Chapter II, F.2. of OSHA Instruction CPL 2.45B or a superseding directive.

2. Local emphasis programmed inspections shall be conducted in accordance with OSHA Instruction CPL 2.102.

E. Inspection Preparation.

1. General. The conduct of effective inspections requires professional judgment in the identification, evaluation and reporting of safety and health conditions and practices. Inspections may vary considerably in scope and detail, depending upon the circumstances in each case.

2. Planning. It is most important that the CSHO adequately prepares for an inspection. The CSHO shall also ensure the selection of appropriate inspection materials and equipment, including personal protective equipment, based on anticipated exposures and training received in relation to the uses and limitations of such equipment. Refer to OSHA Instruction CPL 2-2.54 regarding respiratory protection.

a. 29 CFR 1903.7(c) requires that the CSHO comply with all safety and health rules and practices at the establishment and wear or use the safety clothing or protective equipment required by OSHA standards or by the employer for the protection of employees.

b. The CSHO shall not enter any area where special entrance restrictions apply until the required precautions have been taken. It shall be the Assistant Area Director's responsibility to procure whatever materials and equipment are needed for the safe conduct of the inspection.

E. 3. Advance Notice of Inspections.

a. Policy. Section 17(f) of the Act and 29 CFR 1903.6 contain a general prohibition against the giving of advance notice of inspections, except as authorized by the Secretary or the Secretary's designee.

(1) The Occupational Safety and Health Act regulates many conditions which are subject to speedy alteration and disguise by employers. To forestall such changes in worksite conditions, the Act, in Section 8(a), prohibits unauthorized advance notice.

(2) There may be occasions when advance notice is necessary to conduct an effective investigation. These occasions are narrow exceptions to the statutory prohibition against advance notice.

(3) Advance notice of inspections may be given only with the authorization of the Area Director and only in the following situations:

(a) In cases of apparent imminent danger to enable the employer to correct the danger as quickly as possible;

(b) When the inspection can most effectively be conducted after regular business hours or when special preparations are necessary;

(c) To ensure the presence of employer and employee representatives or other appropriate personnel who are needed to aid in the inspection; and

(d) When the giving of advance notice would enhance the probability of an effective and thorough inspection; e.g., in complex fatality investigations.

(4) Advance notice exists whenever the Area Office sets up a specific date or time with the employer for the CSHO to begin an inspection. Any delays in the conduct of the inspection shall be kept to an absolute minimum. Lengthy or unreasonable delays shall be brought to the attention of the Assistant Area Director. Advance notice generally does not include non-specific indications of potential future inspections.

(5) In unusual circumstances, the Area Director may decide that a delay is necessary. In those cases the employer or the CSHO shall notify affected employee representatives, if any, of the delay and shall keep them informed of the status of the inspection.

b. Documentation. The conditions requiring advance notice and the procedures followed shall be documented in the case file.

E. 4. Pre-Inspection Compulsory Process. 29 CFR 1903.4 authorizes the agency to seek a warrant in advance of an attempted inspection if circumstances are such that "pre-inspection process (is) desirable or necessary." The Act authorizes the agency to issue administrative subpoenas to obtain relevant information.

a. Although the agency generally does not seek warrants without evidence that the employer is likely to refuse entry, the Area Director may seek compulsory process in advance of an attempt to inspect or investigate whenever circumstances indicate the desirability of such warrants.

NOTE: Examples of such circumstances would be evidence of denied entry in previous inspections, or awareness that a job will only last a short time or that job processes will be changing rapidly.

b. Administrative subpoenas may also be issued prior to any attempt to contact the employer or other person for evidence related to an OSHA inspection or investigation. (See OSHA Instruction ADM 4.4. and Chapter II, A.2.c.(3).)

5. Expert Assistance.

a. The Area Director shall arrange for a specialist and/or specialized training, preferably from within OSHA, to assist in an inspection or investigation when the need for such expertise is identified.

b. OSHA specialists may accompany the CSHO or perform their tasks separately. A CSHO must accompany outside consultants. OSHA specialists and outside consultants shall be briefed on the purpose of the inspection and personal protective equipment to be utilized.

E. 6. Personal Security Clearance. Some establishments have areas which contain material or processes which are classified by the U.S. Government in the interest of national security. Whenever an inspection is scheduled for an establishment containing classified areas, the Assistant Area Director shall assign a CSHO who has the appropriate security clearances. The Regional Administrator shall ensure that an adequate number of CSHOs with appropriate security clearances are available within the Region and that the security clearances are current.

7. Disclosure of Records. The disclosure of inspection records is governed by the Department's regulations at 29 CFR part 70, implementing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

8. Classified and Trade Secret Information. Any classified or trade secret information and/or personal knowledge of such information by OSHA personnel shall be handled in accordance with the regulations of OSHA or of the responsible agency. The collection of such information, and the number of personnel with access to it shall be limited to the minimum necessary for the conduct of compliance activities. The CSHO shall identify classified and trade secret information as such in the case file. Title 18 USC, Section 1905, as referenced by Section 15 of the OSH Act, provides for criminal penalties in the event of improper disclosure.

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and no longer represents OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

OSHA Field Inspection Reference Manual - Table of ContentsOSHA Field Inspection Reference Manual - Table of Contents