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Think You're Too Small for OSHA? They May Still Come Knocking


There's a common myth that OSHA can't inspect companies with less than 10 employees—but this isn't true.

OSHA is a small agency. It can’t look over everyone’s shoulder. It only has the resources to inspect a tiny fraction of the estimated eight million workplaces in its jurisdiction. So how does OSHA decide who gets a look? And is your small business at risk?

One common myth is that OSHA can't inspect companies smaller than 10 employees. But this is not the case. OSHA covers most private sector employers and workers either through Federal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved state plan—and in most cases sizes is not an issue. Here are some of the reasons that OSHA might inspect your small business.

Imminent Danger

OSHA’s top inspection priority is any situation that involves imminent danger. If there’s reasonable certainty that a danger exists that could cause death or serious harm before normal enforcement procedures can occur, OSHA can inspect your company, regardless of its size. Examples of such dangers include exposure to electrical or fall hazards or exposure to a toxic substance. 

OSHA may learn of imminent danger by employee complaint or through referral by other agencies, as well as during other inspection processes.

If OSHA learns of an imminent danger, the agency will make every effort to inspect immediately, typically the same day, or within one day of knowledge of the condition.

Severe Injuries and Illnesses

OSHA requires employers to report workplace fatalities, as well as amputations, inpatient hospitalization or loss of eye, in a specific time frame. Fatalities must be reported within eight hours, while the other covered serious injures must be reported within 24 hours. OSHA investigates all fatalities with an inspection.

For reportable serious injuries, OSHA will triage the report. Depending on the severity, age of the injured worker, number of injured workers or circumstances leading to the injury, OSHA may initiate an inspection.

OSHA also considers the history of the employer when deciding whether to inspect. Employers who are repeat offenders, have shown previous failure-to-abate condition, or have a hazard covered by a local, regional or national emphasis program are more likely to be inspected. 

Employee Complaints

Employees have the right to report complaints of unsafe conditions to OSHA without fear of reprisal. OSHA follows a dedicated protocol for these reports and maintains strict confidentiality of the employee.

OSHA will evaluate the complaints to decide if they have merit. The agency will respond to the employee complaint based on the nature and severity of the reported hazard, as well as the employer’s history.


OSHA may also decide to inspect a small business because of reports from other people, organizations, government agencies (including health departments), or the media.

Preventing Inspections

The importance of a strong safety culture cannot be underestimated. Employers can prevent many types of OSHA inspections, as well as costly repercussions, through a safety management system that encourages reporting of unsafe conditions and effectively correcting hazards. Hazard identification and appropriate controls or PPE can eliminate or minimize employee injuries and illnesses, which can also minimize the potential for certain inspections.

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.