Every establishment covered by the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act is subject to inspection by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance safety and health officers. These professionals possess the knowledge and experience required to conduct workplace inspections. They have been thoroughly trained in recognizing safety and health hazards and enforcing OSHA's standards. In states with their own OSHA-approved state plan, pursuant to state law, state officials conduct inspections, issue citations for violations and propose penalties in a manner that is at least as effective as the federal program. The process for inspections is described in the publication OSHA Fact Sheet: Inspections.
When an inspector finds violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, OSHA may issue citations and penalties within six months of the violation's occurrence. Small employers and employers acting in good faith may have penalties reduced; however, no penalty reduction will be made for willful violations. See OSHA Penalties.
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 imprisonment for up to six months, or both.
The OSH Act authorizes OSHA to treat certain violations that have no direct or immediate relationship to safety and health as "de minimus", requiring no penalty or abatement. OSHA does not issue citations for de minimus violations.
Types of violations and penalties
These penalty amounts below are for 2023 and are subject to annual adjustments for inflation.
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 $15,625 for each violation is discretionary.
Serious violation. A violation for which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard. A penalty of up to $15,625 for each violation must be proposed.
Willful violation. A violation that the employer intentionally and knowingly commits. The employer either knows that what it is doing constitutes a violation, or is aware that a condition creates a hazard and has made no reasonable effort to eliminate it. The OSH Act provides that an employer who willfully violates it may be assessed a civil penalty of not more than $156,259 for each violation.
Failure to abate. When an employer has not corrected a previously cited violation upon re-inspection. The penalty is a maximum of $15,625 per day unabated beyond the abatement date, generally limited to 30 days.
Repeat violation. A violation of any standard, regulation, rule or order in which, upon re-inspection, a substantially similar violation is found. Repeat violations can bring fines of up to $156,259 for each violation. To serve as the basis for a repeat citation, the original citation must be final; a citation under contest may not serve as the basis for a repeat citation.