Posted On: January 19, 2022

What Are the Top 10 OSHA Violations?

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) approaches workplace safety from many different angles, but one of the most critical (and anxiety-inducing) is the enforcement of its own standards with citations and fines.

As a business owner or manager, there can be a lot of requirements to keep up with, and the idea of an OSHA compliance officer finding a violation can be stressful.

But information is power – it's important, in your position, to understand what triggers an inspection, what kinds of violations OSHA's looking for, and what violations they most commonly issue. So let's get to it.

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What Are OSHA Violations?

OSHA violations are pretty much what they sound like – a violation of OSHA standards (ie, regulations). What you're probably really wondering is, "how do I get an OSHA violation?" and "what are some examples of OSHA violations?"

First, to earn a violation, you have to get visited by an OSHA inspector. On-site OSHA inspections happen for one of several reasons:

  • Imminent danger situations. If OSHA gets wind of an imminent danger that could cause death or serious harm, they'll conduct an on-site inspection that same day, if possible.
  • You're a high-risk workplace. OSHA schedules "targeted inspections" for businesses in high-risk industries and businesses that have an unusually large number of injuries and illnesses.
  • You report a fatality or serious injury. OSHA requires you to report any fatalities, in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, or enucleations immediately. After OSHA gets your report, you can expect an on-site inspection.
  • A worker files a safety and health complaint. If it's not about an imminent danger, OSHA will probably start by asking questions via phone or fax. However, they'll do an on-site inspection if they're not happy with your responses.
  • Another entity warns them you need a visit. Other government agencies, organizations, the media, or even unaffiliated individuals can all submit their concerns about workplace safety to OSHA, which may trigger an inspection.
  • You've already received a violation. If you've already been inspected and a violation was found, you can expect to be visited again. OSHA will come back and make sure the violations have been corrected, and punishments can become progressively harsher if they're not.

Types of OSHA Violations

If an OSHA inspector finds a standard violation, they'll probably issue a citation.

Not all OSHA standard violations are created equal – some are more serious than others. By creating different levels for OSHA violations, the agency can issue appropriate fines and abatement deadlines.

Violations are categorized according to the amount of harm they might cause, but the employer's degree of diligence toward safety and health is also taken into account. This allows OSHA to work with employers who have exercised good faith and punish bad actors more harshly.

There are six categories of OSHA violations:

Serious Violations

OSHA finds a violation with a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm. OSHA may classify the violation as something else if you didn't or couldn't know "through an exercise of reasonable diligence" that this hazard existed.

Other-than-Serious Violations

If the OSHA inspector finds a violation that could directly impact employee safety or health, but it's unlikely to result in death or serious harm, they'll issue an other-than-serious violation.

De Minimus Violations

Technical violations – those that don't directly impact anyone's safety or health – will be noted in your case file, but they won't earn you a citation (unlike everything else on this list).

Willful Violations

OSHA hands these out when an employer either knowingly violates a legal safety requirement or acts with obvious indifference to employee safety. If someone dies as a result, it's a criminal offense.

Failure to Abate Violations

If you don't fix the hazard that caused a citation by the deadline OSHA issued, you'll get a failure to abate violation and incur a fine for each day the violation continues.

Repeated Violations

If the OSHA inspector finds a violation that is "substantially similar" to a citation issued to your organization in the last 3 years, they'll issue either a repeated or willful violation. The previous incident doesn't have to be at the same worksite, so any citation issued anywhere should result in company-wide policy changes.

It's "repeated" rather than "willful" if it could be the result of inadvertent, accidental, or "ordinarily negligent" act.

What to Do After Receiving an OSHA Standard Violation

After receiving a citation, you'll need to post a copy of the OSHA Notice at or near the place where each violation occurred, so that employees understand the hazard. 

OSHA will also give you a deadline for abating (fixing) the hazard, and you may have to pay a fine.

OSHA Top 10 Violations List

Every year, OSHA ranks the most common violations in their records and publishes the OSHA Top 10 list. Unsurprisingly, this OSHA violations list is composed of the most serious and dangerous hazards in a workplace.

The order changes a bit from year to year, but the same 10 standards are cited consistently. As a result, the OSHA violations list is a great place to get a sense of OSHA violation examples and the kinds of situations that earn a citation.

In order for the 2021 fiscal year, the OSHA Top 10 are:

#1. Fall Protection Violations

For 11 years in a row, Fall Protection has held the number one spot on the OSHA violations list. Specifically, we're talking about the Construction standard for Fall Protection (29 CFR 1926.501).

The reason it gets top billing isn't a mystery – not only is construction a dangerous business but falls account for the largest number of construction fatalities and serious injuries (typically around 30%). In fact, fall protection is such a big deal, three other related standards are also on this list.

In construction, fall protection (like guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest devices) must be provided to workers operating at a height of 6 feet or more. (In Maritime, it's 5 feet; in General Industry, it's 4).

#2 Respiratory Protection Violations

Respiratory protection is required to protect workers from harmful dust, fog, smoke, mist, gas, vapor, and spray, as well as environments with insufficient oxygen (29 CFR 1910.134).

OSHA violation cases under this standard include failing to meet the requirements for medical evaluation, fit testing, a written respiratory protection program with site-specific procedures, and employee training.

#3. Ladder Standard Violations

Violations of the ladder standard (29 CFR 1926.1053) are a common source of falls.

OSHA violation examples in this category include requirements that:

  • ladder rails extend at least 3 feet above the upper landing surface (or get properly secured)
  • ladders are only used for their purpose
  • workers not stand or step on the top level of a ladder
  • workers not carry loads that could cause a loss of balance
  • ladders are used on stable or level surfaces (or get properly secured)

#4. Scaffolding Standard Violations

Scaffolding is one of the possible safeguards against falls, but violations of the scaffolding standard (29 CFR 1926.451) can cause accidents of their own.

What are some OSHA violations in this category?

  • Workers more than 10 feet above the lower level not having fall protection
  • Scaffold platforms not having proper means of access (using cross-braces are a no-no)
  • A lack of base plates, mud sills, or other features for an adequate firm foundation
  • Platforms not being fully planked or decked between the front uprights and the guardrail supports
  • Guardrail systems not meeting all requirements

#5 Hazard Communication Violations

The Hazard Communication standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) requires employers to provide employees with information and training about hazardous chemicals they're likely to encounter in the workplace and to make Safety Data Sheets available for each hazardous chemical.

OSHA violation examples include inadequate training, missing or inadequate Safety Data Sheets, the lack of a written hazard communication program, and improper chemical labeling.

#6. Lockout/Tagout Violations

The lockout/tagout standard (29 CFR 1910.147) is actually called the Control of Hazardous Energy. It's designed to prevent injury during the servicing and maintenance of any machine or piece of equipment due to the unexpected "release of hazardous energy."

Typically that's electricity, but the standard applies to other types of energy as well.

#7. Fall Protection Training Violations

Fall protection is such a big deal that the requirement to train employees about the standard (29 CFR 1926.503) is also in the OSHA Top 10.

OSHA violation examples for fall protection training include:

  • Not providing training, providing incomplete training, or not having a competent person do the training
  • Not keeping well-organized training certification for employees that qualify
  • Ineffective training (ie, employees don't know how to recognize fall hazards or take the appropriate safety procedures)
  • Not "retraining" employees who show a lack of understanding or skill

#8. Eye and Face Protection Violations

Workers exposed to eye or face hazards like flying particles, hazardous chemicals, or light radiation must be provided with adequate personal protective equipment (29 CFR 1926.102).

Aside from a failure to provide protection at all, employers also get cited for a lack of side protection from flying objects or the failure to ensure that employees with prescription lenses get proper protection.

#9. Powered Industrial Truck Standard Violations

The Powered Industrial Truck (PIT) standard (29 CFR 1910.178) applies mostly to forklifts and motorized handtrucks.

Most violations are of the safe operation standards, but citations have also been issued for OSHA standard violations related to training and refresher training, as well as routine equipment examination.

#10. Machine Guarding Violations

The Machinery and Machine Guarding standard (29 CFR 1910.212) requires the safeguarding of any machine part, function, or process that could cause injury. That includes any hazards created by point of operation, ingoing nip points, rotating parts, and flying chips or sparks.

Examples of violations – aside from failing to provide guarding at all – include inadequate point of operation guarding, a lack of anchoring for fixed machinery, improper attachment of machine guards, and guarding of fan blades.

What's the First Step to Avoiding an OSHA Violation?

You may have noticed that training is mentioned in multiple places on the OSHA violations list above.

Proper training is one of the first steps towards OSHA compliance. Your workforce can't understand how to follow OSHA standards if they don't get proper training on how and why. Better training will lead to fewer violations, assuming that you're also giving workers the time and supplies to do things properly.

And from a compliance standpoint, training itself is required explicitly by many standards. You can't just stop there, however – you're expected to train workers on everything they need to know to do the job safely and to refresh training as necessary. OSHA won't just check your training documentation when they visit; they may also give your workers a pop quiz on various safety procedures.

An outside source for OSHA compliance training can be a lifesaver for ensuring that training is thorough, up-to-date, and effective. We've been an OSHA authorized online training provider for over 20 years, providing OSHA 10 and 30 courses as well as training on individual standards. When you train with us, you'll be able to breathe easy knowing that your training is up to snuff and your documentation is always at the ready.

Plus, we can provide for many related EHS training needs, including HAZWOPER, DOT, UST, NYC SST, and more!

Check out our extensive catalog and get started on better training today. Don't forget to check out our enterprise solutions while you're at it!

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