|OSHA Field Inspection Reference Manual CPL 2.103
Section 5 - Chapter I. Pre-Inspection Procedures
OSHA Field Inspection Reference Manual - Table of Contents
- Chapter Number: I
- Chapter Title: Pre-Inspection Procedures
|NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and no longer represents OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.|
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
(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
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
(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
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
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
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
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
b. Priorities for Responding by Inspections to Formal
Complaints. Inspections resulting from formal
complaints shall be conducted according to the
(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
(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
(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
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.
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
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
D. Programmed Inspections.
1. Programmed inspections shall be scheduled in accordance
with Chapter II, F.2. of OSHA Instruction CPL 2.45B or a
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
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
(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
(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
(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
(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
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
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.
|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 Contents