The 10 Most Violated OSHA Standards

Which workplace standards do employers violate the most? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes a "top ten violations" list every year. The latest list was included in a blog OSHA posted on its website in October of 2016. The list reflects violations that occurred during the 2016 fiscal year (October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016).

OSHA's "top ten violations" list doesn't change much from year to year. The 2016 list is almost identical to the one OSHA published in 2015. The only difference is that Electrical Wiring, which is number nine this year, was number eight in 2015. Likewise, Machine Guarding has moved from number nine in 2015 to number eight this year.

Here is a list of the ten OSHA standards that employers violated the most in 2016. The standards are arranged in descending order beginning with Fall Protection, which generated the most violations.

Fall Protection

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Falls are the most common cause of serious injuries in the workplace. Thus, it's not surprising that OSHA's Fall Protection standard generates more violations than any other workplace standard. This standard applies to all industries. It is designed to prevent injuries caused by falls from high places.

While many workers are vulnerable to fall injuries, those who work in holes, or on overhead platforms or elevated work stations are the most susceptible. OSHA requires employers to provide fall protection when employees are working at certain heights. Depending on your industry, this height may be four, five, six, or eight feet.

Many types of protective equipment are available to help prevent fall injuries. Examples are hole covers, safety harnesses, safety nets, toe-boards, and railings. OSHA offers fall-prevention tips tailored to specific industries, such as construction and roofing.

Hazard Communication

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Many workers are injured on the job through exposure to chemicals. OSHA's Hazard Communication standard is intended to prevent such injuries. It requires employers to create and implement a written hazard communication program.

Among other things, employers must create a list of all hazardous substances in the workplace and share the list with employees. They must educate workers about the dangers of those substances, and steps workers can take to protect themselves. Employers must train workers how to use the materials properly. They must also provide workers the proper protective equipment, such as gloves and masks.

The Hazard Communication standard was amended in 2012. The revised law imposes new labeling requirements on manufacturers.  The changes were intended to make labels more consistent and informative. Employers must ensure that all hazardous substances in the workplace are properly labeled.


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Construction workers often perform work off the ground by using scaffolds. Thousands of workers are injured or killed on the job every year due to scaffold accidents. Employees are most likely to be injured when climbing on or off scaffolds, or when erecting or dismantling them.

The Scaffold standard is specific to the construction industry. It is intended to protect workers from injuries caused by falls, falling objects, electrocution, or collapse of the scaffold. The standard establishes requirements that must be met when scaffolds are erected, used, or dismantled. Employers must ensure that all workers who use scaffolds receive the proper training.

Respiratory Protection

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Workers in many industries are exposed to dust, vapor, fumes, gases, smoke or sprays. When inhaled, these substances may cause lung injuries. Workers exposed to these materials over a long period may develop an occupational disease, such as silicosis or asbestosis.

OSHA's Respiratory standard requires employers to create, maintain and enforce a respiratory protection program. Employers must identify any airborne hazards that are present in the workplace. They must choose the right respirator to safeguard workers. They must also train workers how to use the equipment. Finally, employers must monitor the workplace to ensure that respirators are used and maintained properly.

Lockout or Tagout

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Many workers are seriously injured when a machine they are servicing suddenly starts up or releases stored energy. For instance, a worker is doing maintenance work on a production machine when he is injured by an electric shock. The shock was caused by electricity retained in the machine's electrical system. OSHA's Lockout and Tagout standard is intended to prevent such injuries. 

A lockout device is a mechanism placed on a machine or equipment that prevents it from operating. A tagout is similar to a lockout device except that it contains a warning label. The label notifies workers that the machine can't be operated until the tagout device is removed. Lockout or tagout devices may be used on equipment powered by electrical, hydraulic, mechanical or some other type of energy.

Powered Industrial Trucks

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Workers in many industries use forklifts, lift trucks, and similar types of mobile equipment to move heavy loads. OSHA calls such vehicles powered industrial trucks. Workers may be injured while entering or exiting a vehicle, while maneuvering it, or while handling a load. They may also cause injuries to fellow employees.

Almost 100,000 workers are injured every year in forklift accidents, according to OSHA. The agency estimates that one out of every ten forklifts is involved in an accident each year.

OSHA's Industrial Trucks standard requires employers to train workers on the proper operation of forklifts. If more than one type of forklift is used in the workplace (such as rider trucks and motorized hand trucks), employers must train workers on each one. Employers must certify that all employees who use forklifts have received the proper training. They must also evaluate each worker's skills at least every three years.


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According to OSHA, about 20% of the fall injuries that occur in workplaces every year involve the use of ladders. Because ladders are used in many different industries, OSHA's Ladder standard applies to all employers.

OSHA offers the following tips for reducing ladder accidents. First, try to reduce or eliminate the need for ladders altogether. If possible, design projects so that most of the work is performed on the ground. Secondly, replace ladders with safer alternatives such as aerial lifts. Thirdly, ensure that your workers use the right type of ladder for the task they are performing. Fourthly, provide proper accessories, like a safety belt and harness, when needed. Finally, be sure your workers are properly trained how to use ladders safely.

Machine Guarding

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Many workers utilize machines to cut, punch or shear materials like metal, wood or plastic. These machines often contain parts that rotate, reciprocate (move up and down or back and forth), or move with a transverse motion (in a straight line). Others contain rotating parts (such as interlocking gears) that come together at nip points. All of these machines can cause serious injuries, including abrasions, lacerations, and amputations. OSHA's Machine Guarding standard is designed to prevent such injuries.

Employers have numerous options for protecting workers from hazardous machine parts. Examples are fixed guards, pressure-sensing devices, safety trip controls, and gates. To prevent injuries, employers must ensure that all hazardous machinery is properly guarded, and that the guards are maintained.

Electrical Wiring

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This standard is entitled Wiring Methods, Components and Equipment for General Use. Its purpose is to prevent electric shocks, burns, electrocution, and other injuries caused by faulty wiring.

The standard requires employers to ensure that electrical wiring is properly grounded. It bars the use of flexible wiring (including extension cords) as a substitute for fixed wiring in a building. Employers are permitted to use flexible wiring for certain purposes, such as lighting a Christmas tree.

Like most of OSHA's standards, the Electrical Wiring standard is written in very technical language. If you need help understanding it, ask an electrician for assistance.

Electrical, General Requirements

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Last on OSHA's "top ten" list is the standard entitled Electrical, General Requirements. Like the Electrical Wiring standard, this one is intended to prevent injuries caused by electricity. However, the General Requirements standard applies to electrical equipment rather than wiring.

Most workplaces contain electrical equipment that employees use to perform their jobs. Examples are expresso machines in a coffee shop, copy machines in a law office, and drill presses in a machine shop.  If electrical equipment isn't properly maintained, it can cause shock injuries to workers.

The Electrical, General Requirements standard requires employers to inspect electrical equipment to ensure it is safe from hazards like faulty plugs, bare wires, overheating, or arcing. All equipment must be properly installed. It must also be positioned so employees have enough room to work safely.