Q. When an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector arrives at our workplace, must we allow him or her onto the premises?
A. Generally, the answer is no. As a practical matter, however, employers generally choose to grant OSHA agents access to their workplaces.
The OSHA Act authorizes OSHA to conduct unannounced inspections, and federal agents routinely undertake such inspections. Unless the inspector has a warrant, however, the employer need not allow the agent onto its premises.
The employer can generally insist that OSHA first obtain an administrative warrant authorizing a governmental search of the premises. Practically speaking, it’s not difficult for OSHA to obtain such a warrant. It need only show “probable cause” of a workplace violation.
Further, OSHA is not required to give the employer notice of the hearing and may seek a warrant ex parte (i.e., without the employer being present). Thus, refusing to allow OSHA on the premises may be a short-lived victory.
Rather than denying access to the inspector, many employers negotiate regarding the scope of the inspection in return for waiving their right to insist on a warrant.