Top Ten Most Violated OSHA Standards

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Near the end of each year safety organizations around the world publish their list of “most frequent OSHA violations of 20XX”.  I know this because every one of those organizations sends me countless e-mails about it.  The truth is each list contains virtually the same items – maybe in a little different order, but the same items.  The SAD TRUTH is that from year-to-year the lists don’t change much.  Why is that you ask?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration division of the US Department of Labor has been around since 1970.  Over the years, OSHA has developed regulations (standards) that govern how employers make their workplaces safe for employees.  OSHA is constantly tweaking existing standards as improvements in technology and engineering creates new and different ways of doing things.

If your company is as large as say General Motors or Xerox you no doubt have teams of safety professionals and engineers tasked with keeping abreast of OSHA regulations.  Smaller employers don’t have that kind of budget and as a result sometimes find themselves lacking when the OSHA Compliance Officer comes calling.

For the last twenty years or so, the list of Top Ten most violated OSHA standards has remained virtually the same. It is my contention that if American employers could just get a handle on how these ten OSHA standards apply to their businesses and make the necessary adjustments to their operations to comply with the rules great things would happen:

  1.   The number of workplace injury incidents would be drastically reduced
  2.   The number of catastrophic occurrences and worker fatalities would also be reduced
  3.   The cost of workers’ compensation insurance would plummet
  4.   Employees would be much better trained and would enjoy working in a safer place
  5.   Employers would save money currently spent on injury costs and OSHA fines
  6.   Productivity would improve

This is not a “pie in the sky” view.  The same standards have been violated in virtually the same order for years!  Compliance is not that difficult – mostly doing the required training and keeping appropriate records would be a great first step.

Top Ten Most Violated OSHA Standards

Once again for your reading enjoyment are the top ten most violated OSHA standards as of January 1, 2016:

1. Fall Protection (29 CFR 1926.501)

While this standard is written primarily for construction, ALL employers who have workers laboring at heights above six feet are subject to comply with the rules.  OSHA updated this standard in 2016 to reflect changes in technology and engineering improvements in equipment since the original standard was passed in 1990.

Violations of the Fall Protection Standard usually top the list of “ten most violated” every year.  The rules are not that hard!  To me, the difficulty is in getting employees to follow the rules consistently EVERY TIME they work above ground.

2. Hazard Communication (29 CFR 1910.1200)

This standard requires employers to inform their employees about the hazards associated with chemicals used or stored in the workplace.  Since its inception in the 1980’s, the Haz Com Act has been tweaked several times as more and newer chemicals enter the workplace.  

In 2016, OSHA amended the Haz Com standard to reflect changes in chemical container labeling.  Employers are now required to train employees on recognizing pictograms used on chemical container labels.

Violations of this standard are consistently in the top five of “ten most violated” each year.  Most violations occur among employers who fail to recognize that they are covered by the standard, or employers who fail to update the employee training as new or different chemicals are introduced.

3. Scaffolding (29 CFR 1926.451)

The construction standard for scaffolding is usually violated by employers who fail to train employees as “competent persons” as required by the standard.  Competent Person training must be documented and records must be kept to comply with the standard.  

Additionally, the scaffold structure itself must meet industry and OSHA standards, be correctly erected with all safety devices in place, and inspected daily before use.

4. Respiratory Protection (29 CFR 1910.154)

The Respiratory Protection Standard applies to all employers who have workers engaged in tasks covered by the rule.  Most violations occur among employers who fail to train employees on the use of approved respiratory protection devices or who fail to establish baseline testing of employees required to wear respirators in their jobs.

5. Lock-Out/Tag-Out (29 CFR 1910.147)

The Lock-out Tag-out standard was developed to protect employees from accidental energizing of machinery components while being repaired.  Again, most violations occur when employers fail to do the employee training required by the standard.  The LOTO rules are simple and the training could save the lives of employees.

6. Powered Industrial Trucks – Forklifts (29 CFR 1910.178)

Employers have an obligation to ensure that any employee who operates a forklift is certified and trained to do so.  The training must be documented and employee certification renewed every three years. Most violations occur because employers fail to document employee training.

7. Ladders (29 CFR 1926.105)

Failure to use the proper ladder for the task at hand, failure to document ladder inspections, and failure to properly train employees in safe ladder use account for the majority of violations of this standard.

8. Electrical Wiring Methods (29 CFR 1910.305)

Did you know that you are in violation of this standard if you hire someone to install an electrical outlet in your office and they reverse the polarity of the outlet when they connect the wires?  

The standard holds employers accountable for the entire electrical system in the workplace – whether or not the work was done internally or by an outside vendor.  It pays to always use qualified electricians who carry appropriate business insurance.

9. Machine Guarding (29 CFR 1910.212)

That air compressor you bought from the big box home store that your shop employees use to dust off machines can be the source of a violation and a hefty citation if the belt guard is taken off or broken.  

Likewise, the 100-year-old bench grinder you inherited when you bought the business can cost you big bucks in penalties if the tool rests and eye shields are missing or are out of alignment.  OSHA considers a violation of this standard to occur whenever a guard designed to protect employees from contact with spinning or moving equipment is altered or removed.

10. Electrical – General Requirements (29 CFR 1910.303)

Remember in #8 above when I said that OSHA holds the employer accountable for the entire electrical system in the workplace?  Those breaker boxes in your office must be labeled on the outside with the incoming voltage and area that the breaker box serves.  

On the inside, each breaker must be labeled as to what it serves.  There can be no gaps or openings on the inside panel that could expose employees to an energized section of the bus bar.  Finally, all breakers must be free of tape or other obstructions that would prevent their being turned off or tripping.

Moving Forward

2017 is a scant few days away and the tracking of “ten most violated” standards starts anew.  If past history is any indicator of future occurrence, I suspect we’ll see these same ten standards among the most violated for the coming year.

Regardless of the business your company is in, I’ll wager that at least one (and probably more) of the ten most violated standards for 2016 apply to your company.  One of the “tweaks” OSHA accomplished for 2016 was to raise the maximum penalties for violations.  Violations considered by OSHA to be “serious” now carry a maximum penalty of $12,500.00 PER OCCURRENCE.

For example: if the OSHA inspector finds ten electrical panel boxes in your shop and there is a serious violation in each one, you could be looking at $125,000.00 in penalties.

Almost all of the ten standards shown above have a training component that employers must do to ensure employees have the knowledge and equipment necessary to comply with the rules. Most citations to employers are issued because employers failed to TRAIN employees as required.

Keeping up with all the OSHA standards that apply to your business can be a daunting task for small employers.  

Professional Employer Organizations like Employers Resource can take much of the headache away.  Our team of safety professionals can provide you with approved training materials, inspect your workplace for physical hazards that could be in violation of OSHA standards and keep you abreast of the ever-changing rules.  Why not give us a call today to see how Employers Resource can assist you in becoming OSHA compliant?

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