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News Release USDL: 96-219
Thursday, June 6 1996
Contact: Frank Kane (202) 219-8151

New OSHA Complaint Policy Gets Results Fast And Saves Resources

As part of President Clinton's effort to reinvent government, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adopted new complaint investigation procedures that will cut the time that it takes to respond to worker complaints about workplace hazards from 40 days to as little as five days.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Joseph A. Dear said, "Just over a year ago President Clinton promised working Americans and their employers a 'New OSHA.' Our new complaint policy focusing on phone and fax investigations coupled with on-site inspections delivers on that promise.

"The policy is a triple win. Workers get their complaints resolved quickly--in some cases in our pilot test in less than 24 hours. Employers get a chance to correct problems and verify their actions without the threat of possible penalties from an OSHA inspection. And OSHA can better manage its resources by inspecting only when necessary to get results," Dear said.

Under the new policy, when OSHA receives a complaint, it will determine whether to immediately inspect or investigate the alleged hazards. If an investigation is appropriate, the agency will telephone the employer, describe the alleged hazards and follow up with a telefax or a letter. The employer can respond in kind, identifying any problems found and noting corrective actions taken or planned. An adequate response generally negates the need for an inspection.

Dear stressed that the new policy was developed through careful pilot testing, a critical aspect of the agency's reinvention efforts. He said OSHA is committed to experimenting with many different strategies to meet its mission of reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities across the nation. However, he emphasized that OSHA intends to implement only those that offer either greater protection to workers, easier compliance for employers or more effective use of OSHA's resources. He said the complaint policy meets not just one, but all three of those tests.

Dear cited a "tremendous gap" between the agency's mission, to make the 6 million American workplaces as safe and healthful as possible for more than 90 million workers, and the resources available to do the job---about $305 million in the current year. The new complaint policy, he said, will help to close that gap.

The system was first pilot tested in OSHA area offices in Cleveland, Ohio, and Peoria, Ill. In Cleveland, the number of days it took to process a complaint and to abate hazards dropped from 39 to 9, and in Peoria, the days were reduced from 23 to 5. Other OSHA area offices later reported similar dramatic results.

Dear emphasized that "we will continue to guarantee the right of employees and their representatives to an on-site inspection of violations or hazards. However, they will be encouraged to attempt to resolve lower priority complaints more swiftly through the phone/fax procedure."

Complaints about hazardous working conditions should be reported to local OSHA offices or to state OSHA programs. OSHA maintains a 24-hour toll-free hotline--1-800-321-OSHA--for workers to report imminent danger situations only. Complaints reported to this number are relayed to local offices for follow-up.

The 25 states and territories with their own OSHA-approved occupational safety and health programs are encouraged, but not required, to adopt an identical or alternative complaint handling policy.

The system is detailed in a compliance directive, OSHA Instruction CPL 2.115, Complaint Policies and Procedures. The directive will be available on the Internet at under Other OSHA Documents, Directives, CPL 2.115. This information also will be placed on an upcoming issue of the OSHA-CD ROM. Single printed copies are available by mail after June 14, 1996, to requestors who send a self-addressed label to OSHA Publications, P.O. Box 37535, Washington, D.C. 20013-7535. Telephone (202) 219-4667, fax (202) 219-9266.


  1. Complaints are no longer identified as "formal" or "informal."

  2. Based on new criteria, complaints will now be classified as those that result in investigations using telephone and telefax or similar means and those that result in on-site inspections.

In a complaint investigation, OSHA will advise the employer of the alleged hazards by telephone and telefax or by letter if necessary (e-mail may be available in the future). The employer is to provide a written response, and OSHA will provide a copy of the response to the complainant.

If OSHA receives an adequate response and the complainant does not dispute or object to the response, an on-site inspection generally will not be conducted.

A complaint inspection is done at the worksite and the complaint must meet one of the following criteria:

  • It is in writing and signed by a current employee or employee representative and there are reasonable grounds to believe that a violation of a safety or health standard or danger exists under the requirements of the OSH Act.

  • It alleges that physical harm such as disabling injuries or illnesses has occurred and it is believed the hazard still exists.

  • It is based on an allegation of an imminent danger situation.

  • It identifies a hazard or establishment covered by a local or national emphasis program.

  • The employer fails to provide an adequate response to a complaint or there is evidence that the employer's response is false or does not adequately address the hazard.

  • The firm or establishment has a history of egregious, willful or failure-to-abate citations within the area and within the last three years.

  • An OSHA 11(c) discrimination investigator requests a inspection in response to an employee's allegation of discrimination for complaining about safety or health conditions or for refusing to do an imminently dangerous job or task.

  • If an inspection is scheduled or has begun at an establishment and a complaint that normally would be investigated by phone/FAX is received, the area office can schedule it for inspection as a companion complaint.

The complainant's identity will be withheld from the employer upon the request of the complainant.

Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

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

OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents

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