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OSHA Returns to In-Person Inspections As COVID-19 Restrictions Lift

Michelle Campbell | August 4, 2021

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is authorized by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) to assure employers provide safe and healthful work conditions free of recognized hazards and by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, education and technical assistance. OSHA has recently announced the return to in-person inspections as COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift.


In 2020, OSHA conducted 21,674 inspections, with approximately 60% being unprogrammed inspections, which includes employee complaints, injuries/fatalities and referrals; all of which were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The other 40% were programmed inspections that focused OSHA’s enforcement resources on industries and operations where known hazards exist (e.g., combustible dusts, chemical processing, ship-breaking and falls at construction sites).

2020 saw a 35% decrease in the number of OSHA inspections largely due to COVID-19 restrictions for in person meetings and a reduction in the number of OSHA inspectors. Video conferences have been used by OSHA as an interim forum for facilitating the inspections of private employers’ worksites across 28 states (i.e., those states subject to only federal OSHA standards).

On March 12, 2021, OSHA released a new COVID-19 National Emphasis Program (NEP), as part of the agency’s Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan to help ensure that employees in high hazard industries such as healthcare, food and agriculture, construction, manufacturing, energy, chemicals and transportation are protected from contracting COVID-19. The NEP, aimed at protecting workers from COVID-19 exposure, includes plans for increased site inspections.

According to OSHA, the number of inspections already conducted in 2021 is nearing the pre-pandemic numbers.

Who Is Affected?

The construction industry continues to account for the highest number of OSHA inspections, followed by the healthcare, retail, warehouse and transportation industries.

What Prompts an OSHA Inspection?

OSHA Inspections are initiated for any one of the following reasons:

  • Imminent danger situations – investigation of hazards that may cause death or serious physical harm
  • Severe injury and illnesses – these include work-related fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations, amputations or losses of an eye
  • Worker complaints – employee reported concerns of hazards and/or violation of regulations
  • Referrals – other regulatory agencies may refer worksites to OSHA for inspection
  • Targeted inspections – aimed at high hazard industries (e.g., construction) and/or in response to high incidents of injury or illness at a particular worksite
  • Follow up inspections – to verify corrective actions have been completed in response to violations from an initial inspection

What To Do When OSHA Shows Up at Your Site

  • Be cordial but ask for identification
  • Ask the nature of the visit/review the complaint
  • Wait for management and/or legal representation before starting the opening conference
  • Offer personal protective equipment if the OSHA Compliance Officer does not have their own
  • Provide basic site safety orientation training
  • Escort OSHA to the target area(s)
  • Document what the OSHA Compliance Officer is inspecting and photograph current conditions
  • Following employee interviews, discuss what OSHA asked and employee responses
  • Don’t admit to violations, provide concise answers and do not over share information
  • Fix/correct what you can at the time of the inspection
  • Discuss next steps and establish a clear path forward during the closing conference

Additional Resources:

How TRC Can Help

TRC’s experienced safety professionals and industrial hygienists are here to help with OSHA audit preparation and all other health and safety compliance needs. Our skilled team can provide on-site audits which may include a thorough site visit, observing worker activities, conducting employee interviews and records review. We also offer remote and hybrid audits utilizing mobile applications and audit links.

To learn more contact Michelle Campbell at

Michelle Campbell

Michelle Campbell is TRC’s National Service Leader for Industrial Hygiene located in Irvine, California. She has over 19 years of experience in environment, health and safety consulting with a focus on industrial hygiene program design. Ms. Campbell’s experience includes, hazardous and regulated materials assessments; development, implementation, and management of health and safety programs; health and safety training; health and safety auditing for regulatory compliance; occupational exposure assessments; exposure banding; and hazardous waste storage and management audits. As National Servicer Leader, she is responsible for program and technical development, strategic growth and overall performance of the Industrial Hygiene Assessment and Controls Services team. Michelle can be reached at

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