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Workplace safety: Avoiding common OSHA violations

3 min read



Since its formation in 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has set standards to ensure optimal workplace safety and health. Such regulations can be found in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which outlines labor in the U.S.

In recent years, the agency has been releasing annual lists called “Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards.” It’s a list dedicated to the most common OSHA safety violations in the country, based on the agency’s worksite inspections. The consistently leading violations: Fall protection, hazard communication, and scaffolding. We’ll discuss each below, along with what companies should be aware of.

Fall protection

The most violated standard — at least within the past decade — has been 29 CFR 1926.501, which addresses fall protection. In 2013, there were 8,241 violations, a 13% increase from 2010. Falls continue to be one of the most common causes, if not the most common, of serious work-related injuries and deaths, accounting for over 200 fatalities each year. Many OSHA citations in the workplace are for failing to meet requirements for protection in construction projects. Other common citations involving fall protection include roofing and holes in the floor and walls.

29 CFR 1926.501 sets the requirements for employers to provide fall protection systems. OSHA requires fall protection for elevations of 4 feet in general industry workplaces. The agency also requires fall protection for elevations of 5 feet in shipyards, 6 feet in construction projects, and 8 feet in longshoring operations. Employers can use railings, toe-boards, or floor hole covers to guard every floor hole in the work area. Also, guard rails and toe-boards can be installed around every elevation or platform. Other means of fall protection include safety nets, hand rails, stair railings, and harnesses.

Hazard communication

In 2013, the second-most frequently cited standard was hazard communication; there were 6,156 citations that year. According to 29 CFR 1910.200, all chemical products or containers should be properly marked. To improve the development and distribution of hazard information, the U.S. Department of Labor is aligning OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. For their part, employers must make sure that each container containing hazardous chemicals is properly labeled.


Another common OSHA safety violation concerns scaffolding, which has requirements outlined in 29 CFR 1926.451. As temporary structures designed to support both people and objects, employees should not only be protected from falling from scaffolds; they also should be protected from falling objects. The OSHA reported 5,423 violations of the scaffolding section in 2013, making it the third-most frequently cited standard. Employers must make sure that scaffolds are supported by legs, brackets, outrigger beams, uprights, posts and frames. For suspension scaffolds in particular, rope or other suspension systems must be able to withstand six times its maximum load.

In general, OSHA requires employers to provide working conditions that are free of known dangers. Floors in work areas must be kept clean and dry as much as possible. Selecting and providing required personal protective equipment, such as goggles, can have a huge effect in preventing injuries. Employees can also be trained about job hazards — and trained in a method or language that they can quickly and easily understand. The aforementioned general requirements not only prevent citations, but also the consequent fines, which have increased by 200% since 2010.

Tom Reddon is a forklift specialist and blog manager for National Forklift Exchange. He also sits on the MHEDA Executive Dialogue team. Connect with him via Twitter at @TomReddon.

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