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Employers beware: OSHA issued 55% more citations for violations of top ten cited standards

While the list of the ten most cited violations for FY 2013 was little changed from FY 2012, there was a significant change in the number of gross violations for the standards on the list, increasing from 29,179 to 45,238 or 55%. This clearly demonstrates that OSHA enforcement efforts have continued to rise at a significant rate.

Top ten violations

Here are the top ten violations for FY 2013, including frequently cited areas:

  1. 1926.501 - Fall Protection: 8,739 citations, including failure to use guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems in residential construction, unprotected open sides and edges, improper roofing work and failure to cover holes.
  2. 1910.1200 - Hazard Communication: 6,556 citations including failure to maintain a written program, inadequate employee education and training, improper or no labels on containers, and failure to have readily accessible material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and/or safety data sheets (SDSs).
  3. 1926.451 - Scaffolding: 5,724 citations including failure to provide safe access to scaffolding surfaces, lack of fall and/or falling object protection, and violation of foundation and guardrail requirements.
  4. 1910.134 - Respiratory Protection: 4,153 citations including lack of medical evaluations for employees required to wear respirators, no written respiratory protection program, managing situations when respirator is not required, improper respirator selection for hazards present, improper fit testing.
  5. 1910.305 - Electrical, Wiring Methods: 3,709 violations including problems with flexible cords and cables, conductors entering boxes or fittings, identification, splices and terminations, covers and canopies and temporary wiring.
  6. 1910.178 - Powered Industrial Trucks: 3,544 citations including safe operation, inadequate operator training and refresher training, taking the truck out of service when repairs are necessary, maintenance.
  7. 1926.1053 - Ladders: 3,524 citations including requirements for portable ladders used for accessing upper landing surfaces, use of the top ladder step, use of inappropriate ladder for a job, marking portable ladders with structural defects with tags noting them as defective and excessive loads on ladders.
  8. 1910.147 - Lockout/Tagout: 3,505 citations including poor or no energy control procedures, periodic inspections, inadequate worker training, and lockout or tagout device application.
  9. 1910.303 - Electrical, General Requirements: 2,932 citations, including installation and use of equipment, space around electric equipment, guarding of live parts, services, feeders and branch circuits, and examination of equipment.
  10. 1910.212 - Machine Guarding: 2,852 citations, including types of guarding, point of operation exposures, failure to properly anchor fixed machinery, and exposure to blades.

Tips for employers

Common threads run through many of these violations. Proper training of employees on relevant standards, keeping required written programs and documents, right choice and use of equipment, regular inspection and proper maintenance of equipment, and the right fit, maintenance, and training on use of protective equipment will help reduce or eliminate citations when an inspection occurs.

Violations by industry

Employers can learn more about the frequently cited OSHA standards for their industry on the OSHA website. With the 6-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code and number of employees, employers can see the number of citations issued by standard, the number of inspections and the total penalties issued.

Understanding fines

OSHA characterizes citations as willful, serious, other than serious (OTS), or repeat. While the maximum penalty for OTS and Serious citations is modest, $7,000 per violation, for Willful and Repeat violations, OSHA can issue penalties up to $70,000 per violation.

The most serious category, willful violations, is when an employer either knowingly committed a violation (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety. Penalties of up to $70,000 may be proposed for each willful violation, with a minimum penalty of $5,000 for each violation.

A serious violation exists when the workplace hazard could result in death or serious physical harm, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard. Penalties of up to $7,000 for each violation are mandatory.

An other than serious violation has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm. Penalties of up to $7,000 for each violation is discretionary.

If an employer is cited for a particular violation and within five years a subsequent inspection reveals another identical or very similar violation, the maximum fine is $70,000 for a repeat violation. Since OSHA has broadened the scope to enterprise-wide rather than site-specific and now targets former violators, it behooves employers to carefully assess the risk of a repeat violation. Some employers do not contest minor penalties, believing it is easier to pay the fine. If the possibility of a repeat violation exists, it may make sense to contest the first citation.

Failure to abate a prior violation by the specified date may bring a civil penalty of up to $7,000 for each day the violation continues.