The Most Cited OSHA Standards (And What They Mean for All of Us)
OSHA's list doesn't change much year after year, but we can all do our part to reduce the numbers.
It’s a list that changes little from year to year. Every time the latest list of most-cited OSHA standards comes out, it feels a bit familiar. But it's an important reminder of the safety issues that we still need to work on and that are responsible for more than 4,500 worker deaths each year.
OSHA's Most-Cited Safety Violations
- Fall protection
- Hazard communication
- Respiratory protection
- Powered industrial trucks
- Machine guarding
- Electrical wiring
- Electrical, general requirements
What the List Tells Us
The physical and machine-based work that is common across jobsites means that danger is always present. The list of violations reveals two types of deficiencies: inadequate physical protection and lack of communication.
Fall protection is the leading cause of death on worksites, and it is a protective equipment issue. The protective devices needed to keep workers safe from falls range from PPE like harnesses and lifelines through to site-specific features like guardrails and toe-boards, safety nets, stair railings, and hand rails. Fatal falls and injuries also factor into scaffolds and ladders, which appear as number three and number seven on this list.
Respiratory protection is fourth on the list. Breathing is often taken for granted as a workplace activity. Its dangers don't appear as obvious as those from tools, machinery, or vehicles. Additionally, the damage often only shows up hours or even years after exposure, making its cause harder to pinpoint.
For example, silica dust and asbestos are respirable hazards whose effects only show up long after workers have punched the clock. In many cases, workers are offered paper face masks, which are inadequate protective devices for these risks. Even full-face respirators are intended to be used as a second level of defense after appropriate dust prevention procedures, like vacuuming and water sprays have been put in use (learn more about Reducing Silica Risks at the Construction Site).
Of particular interest is hazard communication (number two) and lockout/tagout (number five). These both point to communication issues related to adequate signage, signaling, and education.
This list – as well as all subsequent lists of the next ten or hundred OSHA citations – are not mere items on a board somewhere. Each citation represents workers whose lives have been cut short or seriously damaged by violations of clearly defined safety regulations.
The Causes Behind the Citations
In most cases, the reasons workplace safety regulations are violated come down to time, money, or inadequate compliance.
In terms of time, many project managers find themselves having to make critical choices. Whether the project is a one-off, or a daily occurrence, there are often many reasons why it might be tempting to hurry things up. It's easy to fall behind on a project, leaving managers the choice to complete it late or to cut corners. Unfortunately, with many competing pressures, they don't always choose the safest route.
In other situations, the causes are purely financial. A company might have to cut costs to be accepted as a vendor, for instance. However, in many circumstances, the costs of failing to comply with safety make the cost-cutting less of a bargain than it first seemed to be (see Connecting the Dots: Safety and Profitability to learn more).
Workers Without a Voice
Industries like construction are filled with employees who have little say in their working conditions. Even if they have in-demand skills, they might be reluctant to raise their voices, even to a shop steward, for fear of retaliation. Anywhere that workers are worried they might lose their job if they raise an issue is a workplace where safety violations can continue without check.
Organizations like OSHA aim to speak for these workers by mandating policies, behaviors, and physical requirements that contribute to the goal of a 100% injury and fatality-free worksite (see The Journey to Zero! for a related discussion).
In addressing these issues, OSHA also speaks on behalf of employers, since the cost of adequate preparations, equipment, and practices pales in comparison to the costs of litigation and fines.
But as a regulatory body, OSHA can only do so much. It is up to management and safety professionals at each individual workplace to ensure the safety of workers and promote it as an important value.
Project Planning for the Future
Any successful project has project management at its heart. Great project management is about writing the history of the project before it happens, using charting and estimations to factor in every element – even the unexpected.
Budgeting for safety equipment, training, practices, and inspections is an essential component of any project plan. Quality assurance is important, too, since training isn’t worth much unless the employees can prove they have learned and that they can use what they have learned (see The 5 Metrics EHS Departments Should Be Tracking).
Communication Is Key
The silver lining here is that OSHA's list is a list of violations. That means it points to preventable actions. It's important to communicate the importance of safety clearly and frequently with workers so that they know the procedures, that their safety is valued, and that they won't face retaliation for trying to protect themselves or their co-workers from an unsafe workplace.
OSHA's List Is Everyone's Job
OSHA's list of violations might never go away, but the numbers that come along with it can. Every owner, safety professional, and worker can do their part to reduce the annual rates of injuries and fatalities. Instead of acting like accidents are a fact of life, it's time for us all to act based on the goal of achieving a zero-accident workplace.
More from AD Safety Network
- When should you consider using custom molded earplugs?
- At what height do falls become deadly?
- Who should be responsible for rescuing fallen workers?
- What kind of training do loading dock workers need?
- How often should I inspect a loading dock?
- How is wind chill calculated?
- What is the difference between occupational safety and process safety?
- Why should rubber insulating gloves be tested?
- What happens if I tie off at the foot level with a personal SRL?
- Why is testing with a NAIL4PET accredited lab important?
- What kind of face protection do I need when using a chainsaw?
- What is the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for silica?
- What is silica and why is it hazardous?
- Video Q&A - What is a safety policy?
- What kind of fire extinguisher is best for your work site?
- How do I choose the right respirator and mask for working with silica?
- Can I wear fall protection equipment over my rainwear or winter gear?
- When do I need a cage ladder?
- What types of gloves protect your hands from hazardous chemicals?
- How come I still got hurt while wearing flame-resistant clothing?
- How do I win over my most reluctant employees?
- What kinds of jobs should use disposable safety gloves?
- Is it true that safety shouldn't be a top priority?
- When are employers allowed to conduct drug and alcohol tests on their employees?
- How can I get employees more involved in the risk assessment plan?
- What are some of the indirect costs of workplace accidents?
- How often do fire extinguishers need to be inspected?
- What is the best way to store rubber safety gloves?
- How much voltage protection is needed for safety gloves used in electrical work?
- What is the difference between a safety valve and a release valve?
- When do workers have the right to refuse to work?
- What is the most overlooked item when designing Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) procedures?
- What are some of the misconceptions about heat stress and what should we do to address them?
- What tools should I tether when working at heights?
- What types of gas should I watch out for when working in a confined space?
- How do you create a culture of safety in your workplace?
- What is the difference between industrial safety and industrial hygiene?
- Is it important to get PPE assessments by trained professionals?
- What is a fault tree analysis?
- What kind of respirator cartridge should I use?
- What are the safety benefits of a whistleblower program?
- What type of safety record-keeping and recording should we be doing?
- What makes a hi-vis safety vest ANSI compliant?
- Why is it important to have air sampling done to determine my PELs?
- What is the life expectancy of fall protection equipment?
- What are some basic fall protection rules that each of my workers need to understand?
- How much clearance do I need to safely use a Leading Edge SRL?
- What is the difference between an acute hazard and a chronic hazard?
- What’s the difference between a bump test, a calibration check, and a full calibration?
- Is there any legislation regulating lone worker safety I should know about before hiring?
- What kind of fire extinguisher and accessories should be kept on hand on a factory floor?
- What can companies do to reduce their lost time injury frequency rates?
- Video Q&A - What's your safety network like?
- Video Q&A - What are the 3 levels of safety?
- Video Q&A - How do you treat a near miss?
- Does body weight affect falls differently?
- What ages are most affected by falls?
- Why do workers take risks?
- What Is the Difference Between OHSAS 18001 and 18002?
- What is the difference between lost time injury and medical treatment case?
- What is the difference between occupational health and safety and workplace health and safety?
- What is the difference between occupational health and occupational safety?
- What is the difference between a lost time injury and a disabling injury?