South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Warrantless, Surprise OSHA Inspection Justified

Appeals court upheld a citation for willful violation of OSHA safety rules at a construction site that an OSHA inspector visited unexpectedly. There was no violation of the contractor’s right of privacy and the evidence justified a finding of willful indifference to safety regulations.

Topic Employment Law
Key Words

OSHA; Inspection; Privacy; Willful Violation

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Greenwood, an OSHA inspector, happened to drive by a construction site that to him appeared to be unsafe. He videotaped the site, which caused the foreman to come ask him to leave. Before he left, Greenwood took measurements relevant to the matter and filed a report. The company was fined $49,000 for willful violations of OSHA construction rules. The company petitioned for review of the decision, contending that the warrantless inspection violated its right to privacy and that the evidence against it was gathered improperly.


Petition denied. There was no Fourth Amendment violation of the right to privacy. The construction was in the open on a public roadway. The company objected to Greenwood’s presence, but did not request that he obtain a warrant before finishing his investigation. OSHA properly reviewed the evidence provided by Greenwood and by the company and found in favor of OSHA. The evidence was sufficient to justify that decision. An OSHA violation is willful if it is committed with intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the statute. The company had to be aware of its obligations at construction sites; the danger posed to the workers was obvious, so the citations were justified.


Lakeland Enterprises of Rhinelander, Inc. v. Chao, 402 F.3d 739 (7 th Cir., 2005)

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