Top 10 OSHA Violations and How to Avoid Them

Implementing and maintaining workplace safety standards set out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the responsibility of employers, and failure to do so can have serious consequences. In addition to the potential for a workplace injury, OSHA violations can lead to expensive citations.

The maximum citation for serious safety hazards is $12,471 per violation, with repeated offenses costing up to $124,471 per violation. It’s beneficial both in terms of employee health and finances to stay up to date on OSHA safety topics and make every effort to identify and negate possible safety hazards.

Ten OSHA violations make up most of the citations issued by the organization every year. In order of frequency, they are:

  • Fall protection
  • Hazard communication
  • Scaffolding
  • Respiratory protection
  • Control of hazardous energy
  • Ladders
  • Powered industrial trucks (forklifts)
  • Machinery and machine guarding
  • Fall protection (training requirements)
  • Electrical, wiring methods, components and equipment.

Here we’ll examine each of these OSHA safety topics individually, and how you can meet the relevant workplace safety standards.

Fall Protection

Falls are potential safety hazards in almost all work environments and can cause serious injuries: 2014 saw 261,920 non-fatal work-related fall injuries and 793 deaths.

OSHA safety topics related to falls include safety standards for cleaning up spills, using rails and guardrails, and the use of fall prevention equipment. Depending on your workspace, you may need to install guardrails and toe boards around platforms, runways, and dangerous equipment, use safety nets, and offer fall protection training to employees to ensure they understand when and how to use safety harnesses and other fall-related personal protective equipment. Employees should also know who to contact should they find spills or other fall hazards.

Hazard Communication

OSHA hazard communication violations concern unavailable, missing, or outdated data sheets outlining the proper use and storage of on-site hazardous chemicals. Regularly reviewing hazardous communication data sheets to ensure the sheets are up-to-date and easily available for reference is your best defense against these safety violations. Employees should understand how to read data sheets and interpret any hazardous material labels.


Approximately 4,500 workers are injured annually due to violations of scaffolding safety standards. Problems with access and improper assembly account for most OSHA violations in this area, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reporting 72 percent of scaffolding accidents occur due to planking, supports giving way, falling objects, or employees slipping.

Review all OSHA safety topics on scaffolding as they apply to your industry, and train employees in the proper use of supported scaffolding and / or suspended scaffolding as needed.

Respiratory Protection

Respiratory protection is required for safety hazards such as dust, insufficient oxygen, smokes, mists, fogs, gases, vapors, and sprays. Most OSHA violations in this category occur due to respiratory protection that is improperly fitted, overexposure to contaminants, or a lack of medical evaluation of employees prior to working in areas requiring respirators.

Keep written records of medical evaluations of employees completed before assignment to respiratory-required work areas and ensure all employees have properly fitted respirators. Offering respiratory protection and safety training further lowers your risk of OSHA violations.

Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout)

Control of hazardous energy is one of the OSHA safety topics where violations can result in serious harm or death. Proper Lockout/Tagout procedures prevent an estimated 50,000 injuries and 120 fatalities every year.

Common OSHA violations in this category include failure to produce written procedures for controlling hazardous energy, no periodic inspection to ensure procedures were followed by employees, and a lack of electricity safety training. Addressing these three areas helps employers meet OSHA’s safety standards.


Ladder-related accidents are often caused by employees not understanding how to use portable ladders properly, choosing the incorrect ladder for a job, or not inspecting ladders for damage before use. The use of metal ladders near electric wires violates safety standards, as does using ladders in place of skids, braces, and platforms.

Education is key in preventing ladder-related accidents. Training employees in ladder safety reduces the risk of injuries and OSHA violations.

Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklifts)

OSHA reports 96,700 forklift-related injuries a year, with 35,000 resulting in serious injury. Most injuries occur due failure to enforce safety operating procedures, a lack of those procedures, or inadequate training.

To reduce the risk of forklift accidents, be sure you have and enforce operating procedures for powered industrial trucks, and only assign forklift to employees certified in proper forklift safety.

Machinery and Machine Guarding

Machine guards are installed to protect employees from parts of machines capable for causing injury, including pinched or crushed body parts, burns, and amputations. Improper guards, missing guards, and inadequately anchored machinery account for most OSHA violations in this area.

Never bypass equipment guards, check that machinery is anchored in accordance with safety standards, and report all missing or damaged machine guards promptly.

Fall Protection (Training Requirements)

A lack of a fall prevention training program can lead to costly OSHA citations. Protect yourself against citations by providing one-time fall prevention training to employees and keeping written certifications of completion on hand as proof. Only certified employees should be permitted to work in areas where falls are safety hazards.

Electrical, Wiring Methods, Components, and Equipment

Poorly installed or misused electrical components are common causes of workplace injury, and OSHA safety topics centered around electricity are numerous. Provide basic electricity safety training to all employees, coupled with specific training for electricians, to protect against electrical injuries while maintaining OSHA safety standards.

Learn about more ways to prevent OSHA violations by watching a recording of our previous webinar discussing OSHA violations.


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