How OSHRC Works
The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission
The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC or Review Commission) is an independent federal agency that plays a vital role in ensuring safe and healthy workplaces and working conditions for American workers. It provides fair and timely adjudication of work-related safety and health disputes between employers, employees or their representatives, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency of the United States Department of Labor.
The Review Commission was created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 as an independent agency entirely separate from the Department of Labor and OSHA, the agency charged with setting workplace safety and health standards and with inspecting workplaces to enforce compliance with those standards. This separation ensures that all parties—OSHA, employers, affected employees, and authorized employee representatives—receive an impartial hearing before the Review Commission.
The cases that come before the Review Commission arise from citations issued to employers by OSHA following a workplace inspection. The Review Commission’s adjudicative process begins when an employer files a notice contesting an OSHA citation or an employee or employee representative files a notice contesting the abatement date stated in an OSHA citation. Following receipt of both the notice of contest and citation, the Review Commission’s Office of the Executive Secretary—which functions much like a court clerk’s office— assigns a docket number, creates a new case file, and notifies all parties of the case’s docketing. Next, the Review Commission’s Chief Administrative Law Judge assigns the case to one of the Review Commission’s administrative law judges (ALJs). The agency’s ALJs are located in OSHRC’s Washington, D.C. Headquarters, as well as in its Atlanta and Denver regional offices.
The Review Commission's Rules of Procedure provide for two levels of adjudication—a trial level and an appeals level. The trial level takes place before an OSHRC ALJ. The appeals level takes place before the agency’s three-member Commission and occurs only after the ALJ issues a decision resolving the case.
The Review Commission’s Rules of Procedure are available here and in Part 2200 of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. These rules govern the two levels of adjudication and vary depending on the formality of the proceedings. Conventional proceedings involve the use of pleadings, discovery, a hearing, and post-hearing briefing or argument. Less formal “Simplified Proceedings,” to which certain less complex cases can be assigned by the Chief ALJ or upon a party’s request, do not involve the use of formal pleadings, and require the parties to engage in early discussions to narrow the disputed issues. More details on Simplified Proceedings can be found here in the Rules of Procedure. Guide booklets to both conventional proceedings and Simplified Proceedings are also available here.
Hearings and Appeals
Once an ALJ is assigned to a case, the ALJ may schedule a hearing at which the parties must appear, designating a place and time that involves as little inconvenience and expense to the parties as is practicable. At the hearing, the ALJ conducts the proceedings in accordance with the Review Commission's Rules of Procedure, as well as the Federal Rules of Evidence and Civil Procedure as applicable.
A cited employer, an affected employee, or an authorized employee representative may appear before the agency with or without an attorney or a non-attorney representative. OSHA is represented by the Secretary of Labor, who assigns a government attorney to handle the case. The Secretary of Labor bears the burden of proving any violations alleged in the contested citation(s).
After the hearing, the ALJ will issue a written decision that includes findings of fact and conclusions of law. As part of the ALJ’s decision, the citation(s) will be either affirmed, modified, or vacated. The ALJ will also consider whether to assess a penalty for any affirmed violation. The ALJ’s decision becomes a final order in 30 days unless directed for review by one of OSHRC’s three Commission members. If the case is directed for review, the Commission will review all of the evidence, briefs, and arguments, as well as the ALJ’s decision. The Commission then issues its own decision affirming, modifying, or vacating the citation(s), and assessing any penalties.
Review Commission decisions, including ALJ decisions, are available here.
Review of a final order of the Commission may be requested in an appropriate United States Circuit Court of Appeals and such requests must be filed within 60 days following the issuance of the final order.
Last Updated: December 14, 2022