OSHA Violations
Safety and Security Sep 28, 2021

How to Prevent the Top 10 OSHA Violations

OSHA regularly publishes a list of its most frequently cited violations. In this post, we’ll provide tips and best practices to help you keep workers safe and avoid OSHA violations.

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There was a time when workers weren’t protected. Left unregulated, some employers subjected their workers to unsafe machines, toxic chemicals, and other harsh labor conditions that led to high rates of workplace injuries and deaths. As industrial production rose after WWII, so did accidents and exposure to new chemicals. With that, disabling injuries increased by a steep 20% during the 1960’s, with 14,000 workers dying on the job each year.

Thankfully, federal law now requires employers to provide a safe workplace. In response to public concern about rising numbers of death and injuries on the job, Congress established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1970. As a permanent agency within the US Department of Labor, OSHA’s purpose and mission is to oversee safety in the workplace. They’re in charge of setting and enforcing workplace safety and health standards, and making sure all employees are aware of their rights.

Safety is the first priority for any company that seeks to protect employees, contractors, and customers. Understanding your responsibility as an employer and knowing the hazards that exist in your workplace offices, equipment, and machinery will go a long way in preventing serious injuries, or even death at your place of business.

Here’s what you need to know about OSHA violations, how they work, and the potential consequences to your business.

What Are OSHA Violations?

An OSHA violation occurs when a business or its employees don’t comply with all applicable regulations for keeping the workplace free of serious hazards. OSHA violations range from minor, such as a technical infraction that poses no immediate danger, to serious dangers and health threats like unsafe wiring or poor ventilation.

There are six types of OSHA violations, categorized as:

  • De minimis
  • Other-than-serious
  • Failure to abate
  • Serious
  • Willful
  • Repeated

The main way OSHA enforces its regulations and standards is through inspections. OSHA inspections are conducted based on the following order of priority:

1. Imminent danger:

Situations that could cause death or serious physical harm

2. Severe injuries and illnesses:

Employers must report all work-related fatalities and serious injuries within a specific timeframe, and undergo an inspection

3. Worker complaints:

Workers can anonymously ask OSHA to inspect their workplace if they believe their employer is ignoring a serious hazard or not complying with OSHA standards

4. Referrals:

From other government agencies, individuals, organizations, or the media

5. Targeted inspections:

Aimed at high-risk industries or individual employers with high rates of injuries and illnesses

6. Follow-up inspections:

To make sure previous violations have been corrected

If an inspector sees violations or serious safety risks at your worksite, OSHA may issue citations and fines. Citations will include a description of the specific OSHA requirements allegedly violated, any proposed penalties, and a deadline for correcting the reported hazards.

Penalties for violating OSHA standards vary based on the severity of the violation. Serious violations will receive a maximum penalty of $13,653, while willful violations or repeated infringements can cost the business a maximum fine of $136,532 per violation.

Learn how to safeguard your business from any threat with our free All-Hazards Preparedness Guide.

Don’t Be Complacent About Office Safety

Some business owners may think that safety can be a distant focus because their office has two steps to the parking lot, tons of carpet, and no equipment more complex than a Keurig. Isn’t OSHA concerned with factories and industrial sites filled with heavy machinery and equipment where the focus is on manual labor?

Not so fast! OSHA has jurisdiction over approximately 7 million worksites, covering most of the private sector and some of the public sector. OSHA regulations cover employers and workers in the 50 states as well as certain territories and under federal authority.

What’s more—fall risks, chemical exposure, and other hazards can occur in any office environment, no matter how climate-controlled and cushy. So, regardless of which office location you find yourself in, safety should always take precedence.

“Knowing how workers are hurt can go a long way toward keeping them safe. The OSHA Top 10 list calls out areas that require increased vigilance to ensure everyone goes home safely each day.” —Deborah A.P. Hersman, president at the National Safety Council

Top 10 OSHA Cited Workplace Violations

OSHA publishes an annual list of its most frequently cited violations in the workplace. By examining this list, employers can analyze the dangers inherent in their workplaces and plan to avoid them. Each of these hazards may not apply to every business, so take an all-hazards approach to plan for the primary risks facing your company. Here are the most common OSHA violations for Fiscal Year 2020:

OSHA violation #1: Fall protection

Falls are one of the leading causes of serious injury and death at work. So it’s no surprise to see that plenty of workplaces don’t quite nail this one. OSHA covers some of the ways the workplace can be set up to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated work stations, or into holes in the floor and walls, including:

  • Guarding every floor hole with covers, railings, and/or toe-boards
  • Using guardrails and toe-boards near all elevated open-sided platforms, floors, and runways, or near dangerous machines or equipment.
  • Keeping floors clean and dry
  • Using additional means of fall protection when necessary, such as safety harness and line, safety nets, stair railings, and handrails.

OSHA violation #2. Hazard communication

An informed employee is a safe employee. At a minimum, companies must inform their employees about the identities and hazards of chemicals in the workplace. OSHA’s rules require chemical manufacturers and importers to prepare labels and safety data sheets that clearly communicate the hazard to their customers. All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must also:

  • Provide labels and safety data sheets for all exposed workers
  • Train workers to handle chemicals appropriately
  • Inform and train workers on how to read and understand label elements and safety data sheets

In addition, switching to safer chemicals and providing protective equipment like masks and gloves will help keep your workplace and your people safer.

Chemical safety is no joke. It’s critical to communicate about hazards easily and quickly to keep workers safe, informed, and connected.

OSHA violation #3. Respiratory protection

Respiratory Protection was in spot #5 in 2019 ( 2,450 violations). With 2,649 violations in 2020, respiratory protection has moved up to become the 3rd most cited OSHA violation.

If your workers labor in hazardous conditions, respirators are among the most vital pieces of protective equipment you can offer these employees. OSHA guidelines call for workers to use a respirator or a device that protects workers from inhaling dangerous substances, such as chemicals and infectious particles.

The employer is responsible for selecting and providing an appropriate respirator based on the type(s) of respiratory hazards employees may be exposed to. You can also use other controls to prevent atmospheric contamination, such as central and local ventilation, substitution for non-toxic materials, and other personal protective equipment such as masks.

OSHA violation #4. Scaffolding

OSHA estimates that 2.3 million construction workers (65 percent of the construction industry) labor on scaffolds during a typical day. Soberingly, one in five workplace fatalities is a construction worker.

However, with a proper safety and health plan, construction can be a safe occupation. OSHA’s complex standards for scaffolds may prevent 4,500 injuries and more than 60 deaths per year. For employers, that’s a savings of $90 million in workdays not lost. Common safety and non-compliance concerns to avoid are:

Platforms or planking with less-than-permissible spans, rated load capacity, or thickness
Scaffolds cluttered with debris or materials that impose a tripping hazard
Lack of safety measures like guardrails and cross bracing

OSHA’s Scaffolding eTool helps employers prevent violations and minimize tragic workplace accidents. The free tool outlines common hazards, requirements, and accident prevention tactics, and also includes illustrated safety checklists for certain types of scaffolds.

OSHA violation #5. Ladders

Everyone knows how to climb a ladder safely, right? Ladders are so common that many people take them for granted. Nevertheless, OSHA inspectors cited nearly 3,000 violations for ladders in Fiscal Year 2019. With various ladders in the workplace (job made, self-supporting portable ladder, not self-supporting portable ladder, etc.), businesses need to know the standards to keep employees safe when they climb. For example:

  • Ladders must be able to support at least the maximum intended load
  • Ladders should not be used on slippery, unstable, and unlevel surfaces
  • Rungs should have skid-resistant material on them to minimize slipping
  • Ladder rungs, cleats, or steps should be parallel, level, and uniformly spaced
  • Additional safety measures, like self-retracting lifelines, cages, or wells, should be used for higher climbs

OSHA violation #6. Lockout-Tagout

Maintaining heavy equipment and machinery is necessary for businesses but carries with it a risk. If not properly shut off, dangerous machines could start up again during repair or maintenance. Violations of lockout/tagout decreased from 2019 to 2020, moving it down from 4 to 6 on the OSHA most cited violations list.

The lockout-tagout (LOTO) or lock and tag is a safety procedure which is used in industry and research settings. With LOTO, hazardous energy sources are “isolated and rendered inoperative” before a worker starts to operate the equipment in question. The isolated power sources are then locked and a tag is placed on the lock identifying the worker who placed it. The worker then holds the key for the lock ensuring that only he or she can remove the lock and start the machine.

Injuries from hazardous energy during maintenance activities (such as hot steam or electrical shock) can be serious or fatal. Thus, business leaders need to develop, implement, and enforce an effective tagout program, including training to ensure that employees know and understand specific energy control procedures.

OSHA violation #7. Powered industrial trucks

Business owners, you know you have a “powered industrial truck” if you operate or use a forklift or lift truck to move materials. Not surprisingly, OSHA has a long list of standards for these ubiquitous—and potentially dangerous—vehicles.

OSHA’s standards for powered industrial trucks include general requirements relating to fire protection, design, maintenance, and use of all types of specialized industrial trucks. Here are a few more resources from the OSHA website for business leaders who are concerned with workplace safety and OSHA compliance:

OSHA violation #8. Fall protection—training requirements

We’ve already seen that fall protection is a big area for employers as they seek to protect their workforce. But did you know that fall protection training is also an area that trips up employers?

OSHA guidelines state: “The employer shall provide a training program for each employee who might be exposed to fall hazards. The program shall enable each employee to recognize the hazards of falling and shall train each employee in the procedures to be followed in order to minimize these hazards.” For a full list of fall safety procedures, see OSHA’s website.

Do you need to communicate with employees about necessary safety training, but find it hard to contact them in the field? An employee notification system might be the answer for your organization, with two-way messaging and multiple channels such as voice, text, Slack, and email.

OSHA violation #9. Eye and face protection

Eye and face protection OSHA violations ranked #9 in 2020 with 1,369 total violations. OSHA reports that eye injuries cost businesses more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses, and worker compensation.

Preventing blindness and other eye injuries is the goal of OSHA’s eye and face protection standards for general industry, shipyard employment, longshoring, and construction. The standards address personal protection, special subparts for welding, cutting, and brazing (for example), and many other items.

Provide eye and face protection whenever necessary to protect against chemical, environmental, radiological, or mechanical irritants and hazards. If you need help determining potential hazards on the job and choosing specific eye and face protection, this OSHA web page is a good first stop.

OSHA violation #10. Machine guarding

We’re not surprised to see machine guarding make the list of top violations. The standards for machine guarding are quite complex (check them out here). The purpose of machine guarding is to protect the machine operator and other employees from injuries created by ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips, and sparks. OSHA machine guarding violations decreased from almost 2000 violations in 2019 to 1,313 violations in 2020.

To help protect workers and curb injuries, OSHA publishes resources on hazard recognition and possible solutions for machine guarding hazards, including safeguarding techniques, best practices, and virtual tours of select machines.


After reading this list, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. But each of these risks is avoidable if one takes the proper precautions. And you have a legal and ethical responsibility to take the necessary precautions to provide safe working conditions.

If you’re concerned about potential safety violations at your workplace, consider conducting a workplace safety audit, refreshing employee training, or even designating an OSHA compliance officer who can keep the company accountable to safety initiatives.

A modern emergency communication system such as AlertMedia can also help you communicate required information with employees and adhere to recordkeeping requirements related to hazards communication and safety policies to avoid potential OSHA citations. Are your workers often alone in fall risk zones? If so, a lone worker safety solution can ensure that your employees are always covered, even when they are by themselves on the job. And software like AlertMedia that combines mass notification capabilities, mobile app access, and 24/7 monitoring offer improved employee protection and will help you respond to workplace emergencies faster.

OSHA standards are nothing if not comprehensive—and as an employer, you’re obliged to follow them. Employees trust that their employers are doing everything they can to keep them safe. By following OSHA guidelines to the letter, you can do that, fulfilling your duty of care.

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