Demystifying OSHA Inspections Part 5: Your Right to Contest OSHA’s Citations and Fines

The last part of the OSHA inspection applies to you only if your practice has been cited or fined for a problem. You have the right to contest OSHA’s citations and fines. The first step of this process is to request an “Informal Conference” with the manager/supervisor who sent you the citation letter. Your inspector will not be present at the Informal Conference. This meeting must be requested within the timeframe given in your citation letter, usually 15 days of receipt. There is a form included for this in your citation letter. The time set for the meeting can be one that is mutually agreed upon by you and OSHA. It can usually be conducted by phone and you can bring your TMC Representative as well as anyone else you want. Your employees have the right to attend this meeting if they wish so you must post the time and information on how to join the phone call.

The Informal Conference is your chance to state your reasons for removing or reducing citations and/or fines. You can ask for this even if you don’t have any explanation other than “We’re sorry and we fixed it.” OSHA cannot increase the citations or fines and you do not get on a “black list.” You can usually get some reduction in fines just by asking. OSHA is authorized to reduce your fines by up to 35% just by you asking for it. You must ask for what you want and make your case for it. There are a lot of strategies that can be employed during this negotiation. You can ask for “Serious” violations to be moved to a “Non-Serious” status and the fine removed or greatly reduced. You can ask for several related citations to be bundled together into one citation with only one fine. You can request whole citations be dropped. Always keep in mind that you are negotiating with the government. This means you need to be pleasant and conciliatory. Remember, you are not the ultimate power broker in the room.

After the Informal Conference, OSHA will send a Settlement Letter to you. This will list what changes they are willing to make. You then have a limited time to decide whether to accept the settlement, sign it, return it and pay any remaining fines or you can choose to move to the next phase.

If you do not accept the Settlement you have only one last recourse. You can request a Formal Hearing. This meeting will be in person before an administrative judge in Raleigh. This step should only be taken if you believe OSHA has violated regulations or if you have a legal reason that you did not violate a regulation. You are allowed to bring a lawyer and your consultant. OSHA will have their lawyers there. Results are final.

Your best protection from OSHA citations is a strong and continuing OSHA program. You need to understand what is expected from your business. Your program should include policies, procedures, strong documentation, good records, current SDS’s, annual review of safety devices for sharps and thorough training. TMC can help you in developing a strong program and in negotiating the steps of the inspection process.