Compliance Inspection Process

The North Carolina Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Division, Compliance Bureaus are charged with delivery of on-site safety and health compliance enforcement activity to private and public sector employers. The Compliance Program consists of an East and West Compliance Bureau, Agricultural Safety and Health Bureau and the Complaint Desk/Laboratory Section.

The OSH Division is required to develop and maintain procedures that describe those specific processes that affect quality as defined in terms of satisfying customer requirements while completing legislative mandated activity and requirements. The purpose of the North Carolina Field Operations Manual (FOM) is to provide guidance to compliance personnel, to ensure responsibilities are carried out in an effective, efficient and consistent manner. FOM Chapter 01 - Purpose, Scope and Quality Management explains the purpose and scope of the Field Operations Manual and the OSH Quality Management Program.

To understand the inspection process, click on the tabs below for more information that can be found in the respective chapters of the Field Operations Manual. In addition, you can also view our pre-recorded webinar on the Inspection Process which will provide a basic understanding of compliance inspections. 

Compliance Inspections

Tab/Accordion Items

There are two primary types of inspections; programmed and unprogrammed inspections.

  • Programmed inspections of work sites are scheduled based upon objective and impartial selection criteria and are selected according to targeting schedules for safety and health or special emphasis programs.
  • Unprogrammed inspections of work sites are scheduled in response to alleged hazardous working conditions that have been identified for a specific employer at a specific work site. These types of inspections are further classified as fatality/catastrophe, complaint, referral, monitoring, variance, follow-up, reinspection or unprogrammed related. 

The scope of the inspection may be comprehensive or partial in nature.

Comprehensive inspections will involve all areas of the facility being inspected.

Partial inspections will involve a focus limited to certain potentially hazardous areas, operations, conditions or practices at the establishment. They will also include a review of injury and illness records, an assessment of any written programs required by the hazard referenced in the inspection assignment and applicable to the employer, and an evaluation of the employer's general safety and health management program.

Reference FOM Chapter 02 - Compliance Programming for more information related to inspections. This chapter includes program planning, inspection types, inspection scope, selection criteria, inspection priorities, and inspection scheduling. 

FOM Chapter 03 - Inspection Procedures details the inspection procedures that must be followed by compliance safety and health officers (CSHO). Typically, an advance notice of an inspection is prohibited, however, in the following situations advance notice may be given: 

  • In cases of apparent imminent danger to enable the employer to correct the danger as quickly as possible;  
  • When the inspection can most effectively be conducted after regular business hours or when special preparations are necessary, (e.g., air monitoring on second shift or side by side air monitoring by the employer);
  • To ensure the presence of employer and employee representatives or other appropriate personnel who, as determined by the director’s office, are needed to aid in the inspection; or 
  • When the OSH director’s office determines that giving advance notice would enhance the probability of an effective and thorough inspection; for example, in complex fatality investigations.

Inspections are generally made during regular working hours and at other reasonable times. Upon arrival at the establishment or work site, the CSHO will make contact with the owner, agent in charge or most senior official available at the worksite and present credentials. An opening conference will be held where the CSHO informs the employer of the purpose of the inspection (e.g., programmed, imminent danger, complaint, referral, fatality), the scope of the inspection (e.g., comprehensive, partial) and that employer and employee participation in the physical inspection of the worksite is permitted. Once completed, a review of records (e.g., injury and illness records, training records, exposure records, safety and health programs), posting requirements (e.g., logs, posters, abatement), and a walk around inspection is conducted. At the conclusion of the inspection, the CSHO will conduct a closing conference with the employer and the employee representatives. The CSHO will explain the results of the inspection (e.g., if citations will be issued) and answer any questions about inspection activity.

Note: If the worksite is a multi-employer work site, reference CPL 02-00-124 - Multi-Employer Citation Policy as it describes the policy for issuing citations on multi-employer worksites and includes detailed guidance, including examples explaining when citations should and should not be issued to exposing, creating, correcting, and controlling employers.

Additionally, there are specific inspection procedures and compliance guidance for the following:

An informal conference (IFC) is the employer’s opportunity to present any questions, problems, concerns, evidence and/or abatement verification to the OSH division. If an IFC is scheduled, the employer is still allowed the option of contesting the citations after the result of the IFC is determined. 

Following the IFC, one of the following will occur:

  • Citation(s) may be modified based on information reviewed at the IFC.
  • Case file proper and complete; no modifications made to citations.
  • An informal settlement agreement (ISA) may be drafted if  it is beneficial to employee safety and health, or to expedite abatement, or to resolve the case. ISA options include, but not limited to, penalty reduction, modifying citations, mandating the establishment of safety and health guidelines or requiring the correction of similar hazards at all company locations. Note: The ISA must specify that the employer waives the right to contest the citation issues and/or penalties agreed upon.

Reference FOM Chapter 13 - Informal Conferences, Contested Cases and Disclosures for more information related to informal conferences. This chapter also covers contested cases and disclosures.  NCGS 95-137, paragraph (b)(1) states that it's the employer's right to either contest a citation or penalty, or request an informal conference within 15 working days of receipt of a citation.

Inspection or non-formal complaint case files are public information and the inspected or investigated company, employees, employee representatives, attorneys, next of kin, and the public in general can request copies for a minimal per page charge. Case files are redacted prior to release so that personal identifiers, medical records, names and other identifiers of witnesses and complainants, trade secret information and records of accidents, injuries, illnesses and settlements received from the NC Industrial Commission are removed.

The Planning, Statistics and Information Management (PSIM) bureau maintains case files for compliance. Case file information may be released and will be redacted in accordance with NCGS 95-136 and other applicable requirements (e.g., NCGS 132-1.10; NCGS 14-113.20(b); 13 NCAC 7A.0900; NCGS 95-152; NCGS 132-1.2; NCGS 97-81; NCGS 97-92). For more information, please contact the PSIM Bureau at 919-707-7838. 

Reference FOM Chapter 13 - Informal Conferences, Contested Cases and Disclosures for more information related to disclosures. This chapter also covers informal conferences and contested cases. 

CPL 02-00-124 - Multi-Employer Citation Policy describes the policy for issuing citations on multi-employer worksites and includes detailed guidance, including examples explaining when citations should and should not be issued to exposing, creating, correcting, and controlling employers.

On multi-employer worksites (in all industry sectors), more than one employer may be citable for a hazardous condition that violates an OSHA standard. In these situations, the CSHO will determine if the employer is a creating, exposing, correcting, or controlling employer.

Creating employer - The employer that caused a hazardous condition that violates an OSHA standard. Employers must not create violative conditions. An employer that does so is citable even if the only employees exposed are those of other employers at the site.

Exposing employer - An employer whose own employees are exposed to the hazard. A hazard is defined as a workplace condition or practice to which employees are exposed, creating the potential for death or serious physical harm to employees.

Correcting employer - An employer who is engaged in a common undertaking, on the same worksite, as the exposing employer and is responsible for correcting a hazard. This usually occurs where an employer is given the responsibility of installing and/or maintaining particular safety/health equipment or devices.

Controlling employer - An employer who has general supervisory authority over the worksite, including the power to correct safety and health violations itself or require others to correct them. Control can be established by contract or, in the absence of explicit contractual provisions, by the exercise of control in practice.

Multiple Roles: A creating, correcting or controlling employer will often also be an exposing employer. Exposing, creating and controlling employers can also be correcting employers if they are authorized to correct the hazard.

Also reference FOM Chapter 03 - Inspection Procedures which details inspection procedures followed by compliance safety and health officers.

Serious violation - When there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a condition which exists, or from one or more practices, means, methods, operations, or processes which have been adopted or are in use, in such place of employment unless the employer did not, and could not with the exercise of reasonable diligence, know of the presence of the violation.

Nonserious violation - Where the accident or illness that would most likely result from a hazardous condition would probably not cause death or serious physical harm but would have a direct and immediate relationship to the safety and health of employees.

Willful violation - Where the evidence shows either an intentional violation of the OSH Act or plain indifference to its requirements - not necessarily with knowledge of the standard itself.

Criminal/willful violation - An intentional violation of an OSHA standard and it was committed with plain indifference to the law. 

Repeat violation - Previously cited violation for the same or a substantially similar condition and the citation has become a final order.

Also reference FOM Chapter 04 - Violations for more information on violation types. This chapter also provides guidance regarding the General Duty Clause, vertical and horizontal standards, and employee exposure. 

Horizontal standards are those standards that apply across several industries. Examples include 29 CFR 1910.110 for usage of LP gas and 29 CFR 1910.1200 for hazard communication.

Vertical standards are those standards that apply to a particular industry or to particular operations, practices, conditions, processes, means, methods, equipment or installations. Examples include 29 CFR 1910.262 for textiles and 29 CFR 1910.264 for laundries. There are two types of vertical standards:

  • Standards that apply to particular industries (e.g., Maritime, Construction, Agriculture) and standards that apply to particular subindustries as contained in 29 CFR Part 1910 Subpart R (e.g., for sawmills, wood pulping, laundries), and
  • Standards that state more detailed requirements for certain types of operations, equipment, or equipment usage than are stated in another (more general) standard in the same part (e.g., requirements in 29 CFR 1910.213 for woodworking machinery).

Also reference FOM Chapter 04 - Violations for more information on horizontal and vertical standards. This chapter also provides guidance regarding the General Duty Clause, violation types, and employee exposure. 

Should - Recommended

Shall - Mandatory

Under NCGS 95-130(1), "Employees will comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Article which are applicable to their own actions and conduct."  

Note: The act does not provide for the issuance of citations or the proposal of penalties against employees. Employers are responsible for employee compliance with the standards. 

Reference FOM Chapter V - Citations for more information. This chapter also includes abatement verification, follow-up inspections, and affirmative defenses. 

Under NCGS 95-129(1), "Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees conditions of employment and a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious injury or serious physical harm to his employees.  Each employer shall comply with occupational safety and health standards or regulations promulgated pursuant to this Article."

Reference FOM Chapter V - Citations for more information. This chapter also includes abatement verification, follow-up inspections, and affirmative defenses. 

An affirmative defense is any matter that, if established by the employer, will excuse the employer from a violation which has otherwise been proved by the CSHO. They include:

  • Isolated employee misconduct (unforeseeable actions)
  • Impossibility (Functionally impossible or would prevent performance of required work; and there are no alternative means of employee protection)
  • Greater hazard (Compliance with a standard would result in greater hazards to employees than noncompliance; and there are no alternative means of employee protection; and an application of a variance would not be appropriate)

Reference FOM Chapter V - Citations for more information. This chapter also includes abatement verification, follow-up inspections, and employer/employee responsibilities. 

Under NCGS 95-138(b), penalties are to be assessed on the basis of the following factors:

  • The gravity of the violation
  • The size of the business 
  • The good faith of the employer, which is evaluated on the basis of safety and health programs
  • The employer's history of previous violations 
  • Whether the violation involves injury to an employee less than 18 years of age

Reference FOM Chapter VI - Penalties for more information regarding penalties and assessment factors.

North Carolina OSH Division Resources

Compliance Enforcement Procedures - Provide guidance to North Carolina compliance personnel, to ensure responsibilities are carried out in an effective, efficient and consistent manner. 

Consultative Assistance - Request free and confidential assistance for your safety and health program.

Library - Streaming video services (free) and research assistance on consensus standards.

Posters - Request required OSHA workplace posters (free). 

Safety and Health Presentations - Customizable safety and health presentations.

Safety and Health Programs - Customizable safety and health programs.

Safety and Health Topics - Each safety and health topic page is divided into four categories of information based on the content: hazard overview; solutions; regulations; and learn more.

Standards Information and Activity - Provides recently adopted standards within North Carolina.

Standard Interpretations - Request an interpretation by email, online or phone. 

Training Calendar - Register for free training (in-person, webinars). Also available are pre-recorded webinars available 24 hours a day. 

Which Standards Apply - Identify the standards that apply to your workplace. 

Federal OSHA Resources

Compliance Assistance Quick Start - Step-by-step guide to identify many of the major OSHA requirements and guidance materials that may apply to your workplace.

Compliance Directives - Provides guidance to OSHA's compliance personnel about inspection policies and procedures to ensure consistency.

Establishment Search - Enables the user to search for OSHA enforcement inspections by the name of the establishment nationwide.

Safety and Health Topics - Learn more about safety and health by topic.

Standard Interpretations - Letters of interpretation by standard.

Training Requirements and Resources - eTools, vTools, interactive web-based training, and presentations.

Other Resources

Regulatory Agenda - Provides rules that are in various stages of review: pre-rule, proposed rule and final rule.