The Anatomy of an OSHA Citation

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Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citations are generally issued to employers at the closing of, or after, an inspection by an OSHA compliance officer.

An OSHA citation is not a one-pager. Instead, OSHA’s “Citation and Notification of Penalty” is a package of written documents that inform employers of an alleged violation or violations.

It also includes instructions on how to abate (or correct) the alleged violations, the penalties proposed, the deadlines to abate or contest the violations, as well as your rights and obligations as an employer.

How to Read an OSHA Citation

As an employer with an alleged violation, it helps if you better understand what is included in the citation package and why.

Let’s break down the parts of an OSHA citation…

The Cover Letter

The OSHA “Citation and Notification of Penalty” cover letter is signed by the area director and summarizes a few important instructions and notifications.

Pay special attention to date that you receive the letter. Receipt of the letter starts the clock ticking on important deadlines, such as the deadline to request an informal conference and the deadline to submit a written letter to contest the citation(s).

Citation and Notification of Penalty

This form letter includes the following instructions to employers:

  • Posting. Employers are instructed to post a copy of the Citation and Notification of Penalty immediately in a prominent place at or near the location of the alleged violations. It must remain posted until the violations cited are abated or for three working days, whichever is longer.
  • Informal Conference. Employers may request an informal conference with the OSHA area director within 15 working days of the date on the citation package. This optional conference is an opportunity for you or your lawyer to present any evidence or views which could support an adjustment to the citations and/or penalties. It is also a good opportunity to learn more about OSHA’s case against you.
  • Right to Contest. This section notifies employers of their right to contest all or some of the OSHA citation(s). A written Notice of Intent to Contest must be filed with the OSHA area director within 15 working days after the employer receives the citation.
  • Penalty Payment. Penalty amounts are listed on each citation and are summarized at the back of the packet. Penalties must be paid within 15 working days of the date on the citation cover letter unless contested. Payment can be made via check, money order, or electronically. These dates can be negotiated at an informal settlement conference.
  • Notification of Corrective Action. For each violation which you do not contest, you must provide abatement certification to the area director. If the citations state that abatement documentation is required, you must submit such documentation. You must also post the abatement certification letter where the violation and corrective action took place. A sample abatement certification letter is included in the packet.
  • Employer Discrimination Unlawful. This is an important reminder not to retaliate or discriminate against an employee for filing a complaint. OSHA also handles retaliations claims, and it takes claims of whistleblower retaliation seriously. Make sure you understand the adverse actions that could lead to an OSHA retaliation claim.
  • Employer Rights and Responsibilities. You have rights, too! OSHA developed a booklet that outlines your rights and responsibilities that offers detailed instructions, definitions, and your options to contest or comply with the citation(s). This booklet should be read in conjunction with the citation packet. However, neither the citations nor this booklet fully advises you of your options or the consequences of certain violations.
  • Notice to Employees. You must give notice of the citation(s) to employees or their authorized representatives to allow the opportunity to object to any abatement date set for a violation if they believe the date to be unreasonable.
  • Inspection Activity Data. OSHA publishes information on its inspection and citation activity on its website at This information is available to the public and published as soon as you receive the citation.

Behind the cover letter are a number of forms, followed by the citations themselves and finally an invoice for the penalties.

“Notice to Employees of Informal Conference” Form

If you request an Informal Conference with the OSHA area director, complete and post this one-page notice as soon as the date, time, and place have been determined so employees can review it. At the informal settlement conference, OSHA may ask if you posted this notice.

“Certification of Corrective Action Worksheet” Form

This form is required as part of OSHA’s five-step abatement process. This worksheet should be completed and returned – along with evidence of the correction, as required – within 10 calendar days of each abatement date (listed on the citation itself) or as otherwise agreed with OSHA and posted where employees can review it.

The Citations

Each citation will be itemized on a separate document.

Each citation will include:

  • The company name and inspection site;
  • The alleged violation;
  • The type of OSHA violation (i.e., de minimis, other-than-serious, serious, willful, repeated, or failure to abate);
  • The applicable OSHA regulation;
  • Whether abatement documentation is required;
  • Date by which violation must be abated; and
  • The proposed penalty.

Invoice/Debt Collection Notice

Finally, most citation packets include a summary of the penalties proposed and payment instructions, along with interest charges, delinquent charges, and additional charges for the recovery of delinquent payments.

Take Prompt and Decisive Action to Address an OSHA Citation

If you receive an OSHA citation, contact the attorneys at Hendershot Cowart P.C. immediately for assistance. The deadlines for abatement or contesting an OSHA citation are strictly enforced. Our OSHA defense attorneys can guide you through the process and help minimize the penalties and hidden costs often inherent with an OSHA citation.

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