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Antonio Arzate


OSHA’s New Enforcement and Inspection Protocol FY 2016


Written by: Antonio Arzate, IBTX Safety & Loss Control Consultant


July 12, 2016


The need-to-know on changes to OSHA’s onsite inspections

In a memo from Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels, he explains that OSHA is changing its strategy regarding inspections for FY 2016, focusing less on the number of inspections it completes—previously how they tracked and measured enforcement activity—and instead placing more emphasis on completing complex inspections.

According to a news release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries occurred in 2014. Although this number continues to decrease (slowly) over time, 2.8 million is still a lot of potentially preventable trips to the emergency room.  As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is looking for ways to further reduce injuries in the workplace.

Research by the Institute for Work & Health tells us that citations and penalties from OSHA inspections do, in fact, help reduce workplace injuries. Also, in a recent Safety + Health On Safety blog, Kyle Morrison cites Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels from a recent Safety Datapalooza stating that workplaces inspected by OSHA see a 25 percent reduction in injury rates over a four-year period.  But therein lies the problem: The United States has more than 130 million workers to protect in 7 million workplaces and just 2,000 OSHA compliance inspectors to help with enforcement. That’s a daunting ratio of 1 inspector for every 3,500 workplaces.

OSHA explains the new approach will result in more thorough inspections that will allow the agency to identify hazards before they cause or contribute to an injury or illness, particularly at dangerous work sites.

The revised inspection approach will target chemical exposures, ergonomic issues involving musculoskeletal disorders, workplace violence problems, oil refineries, process safety management operations, and other high-risk sites requiring a more detailed review.  Since the new inspection and enforcement changes are significant, now is the time to figure out exactly how the new approach will work especially if you’re in an industry where the threat of inspection under OSHA’s new approach is high.



In early October 2015, Dr. David Michaels published an article on the U.S. Department of Labor blog about upcoming changes to how OSHA handles inspections. In the article, Michaels explains that not all inspections are created equal:

“The reality is that some required far more time and resources than others. For example, the inspection of an oil refinery or a chemical manufacturing facility is more complex and time-consuming than one of a trenching site. Those complex inspections make a big difference – showing employers, and the whole country, that we are determined to investigate serious hazards regardless of how complex or challenging those inspections may be” (Michaels, 2015).

Michaels explains that in 2014, OSHA conducted 36,163 inspections and states that administer their own health and safety plans conducted another 47,217.  OSHA is changing its strategy for administering inspections by “giving greater weight to those that require more time and resources” (Michaels, 2015). According to Michaels, the new protocol is designed to better plan for and measure the impact of inspections. It even comes with a new unit of measurement.

The article continues to explain how the new Enforcement Weighting System assigns values—based on historical data—in Enforcement Units. A routine inspection may be valued at one Enforcement Unit, while more complex inspections could be valued as high as eight Enforcement Units. With this system, OSHA is less likely to forgo a complex, time-consuming inspection simply in an effort to complete more (easy) inspections each year. This system will also help ensure that sufficient resources are allocated to the cases that require them.



Due to these new inspection priorities, some industries and businesses that OSHA previously avoided for being too complex may come under more scrutiny in 2016. An OSHA Fact Sheet regarding inspectings shares that the agency will focus its resources on the most hazardous workplaces in the following order of priority:

  1. Imminent danger situations (Hazards that are capable of causing death or serious physical harm)
  2. Severe injuries and illnesses
  3. Worker complaints
  4. Referrals
  5. Targeted inspections (Aimed at specific high-hazard industries or workplaces that have high rates of injuries)
  6. Follow-up inspections



Whether your company is more or less likely to be subject of an OSHA inspection based on these changes, it’s still important to be prepared for an on-site inspection.  Based on the OSHA Fact Sheet, here’s what you can expect:

Preparation: Assigned OSHA compliance officers will research the inspection history of your worksite and review the standards most likely to apply at your workplace. They also gather any personal protective equipment and testing instruments needed to measure potential hazards.

Opening: After presenting his or her credentials, the compliance officer will explain why OSHA selected your workplace for inspection and outline the scope and procedure of the inspection. You may select a representative to accompany the officer during the inspection.

Walk-around: During the walk-around, the compliance officer will inspect for hazards that could lead to injury or illness. He or she will also be looking for the posting of the official OSHA poster and interviewing employees.

Closing: The inspection ends with a closing “conference” during which the compliance officer will discuss the findings and possible courses of action.


The hope for the new changes to OSHA’s inspection policy is that the agency will be able to focus its resources on more meaningful inspections, potentially the ones that will have the greatest impact on reducing workplace injury and illness. As with any new system, Michaels says that they “will continue to monitor this approach and make adjustments as needed.” And of course, we’ll keep you posted as those changes are made, so you’re always informed and prepared when it comes to safety in the workplace.

Please feel free to contact us directly if you have any questions at or visit the US Department of Labor website.



Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015, October 29). Employer-reported workplace injury and illness summary. Retrieved from

Institute for Work & Health. (Summer 2015). Inspections with penalties linked to lower injuries: IWH review. At Work. Retrieved from

Michaels, D. (2015, September 30). Enforcement weighting system (EWS). U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved from

Michaels, D. (2015, October 1). A better way to plan for safety and health inspections. U.S. Department of Labor Blog. Retrieved from

Morrison, K.W. (2015, October 30). Which worksites should OSHA inspect? On Safety. Retrieved from

Occupational Safety & Health Administration. OSHA®FactSheet. Retrieved from

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