Workplace safety is likely one of your top priorities as a small business owner. You do everything you can to protect employees from injury or harm. Following the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards is an essential part of that effort.
Upholding these guidelines also helps your company avoid hefty fines and penalties. OSHA violations range from de minimis violations or simple citations to willful violations that could cost your business over $145,000 and result in a criminal offense.
To help keep your employees and business safe from harm, here are the different types of OSHA violations, the most common OSHA citations, and the best ways to avoid them.
What Are the Different Types of OSHA Violations?
Several different types of OSHA violations can impact your business. They include:
De Minimis Violations
De minimis violations are minor technical OSHA violations. They don’t result in hefty fines or penalties and involve no—or very minor—injuries. For example, if a window clearance is half an inch lower than the OSHA guidelines, you may receive a de minimis violation. However, even though this violation is minor, an OSHA inspector must report it after completing an OSHA inspection.
Note: If you have more than ten employees, you’re required to keep an employee file of all work-related injuries, illnesses, and OSHA violations. You must maintain this document with all incidents of the past five years on your worksite. In addition, current and former employees have the right to request a copy at any time. So, it’s essential your recordkeeping is on point. OSHA inspectors will report violations to this file, and to you directly.
Other-than-serious violations put your employees’ health and safety at risk but may not cause severe injury or death. As an employer, you could get slapped with a maximum penalty of $14,502, depending on the severity of the violation. However, most inspectors will charge you less. For example, if you don’t have mandatory safety documents posted in your work areas, you could receive an other-than-serious OSHA violation.
This violation occurs if you repeat a violation after a citation. After a citation, OSHA expects that you resolve the health or safety risk. If you don’t, you could be charged up to $145,027—yikes! So, to avoid a repeated violation, make sure to address and fix all violations when they are brought to your attention.
Failure to Abate Prior Violations
These are citations OSHA expects to be resolved by a certain date. Failure to do so can result in a daily $14,502 fine until the violation is resolved up to OSHA’s safety standards.
Serious violations are health or safety risks that you are aware of that have not been remedied. This violation can result in a $14,502 fine depending on the severity of the concern.
These types of violations are the most severe of all OSHA violations. This happens when an employer intentionally disregards OSHA requirements or is completely indifferent to employee safety, and that leads to severe injuries or, worse, death of an employee. Not only does this violation have a maximum fine of $145,027 per violation, but could bring criminal offenses and jail time.
What Are the Top 5 OSHA Violations?
Now that you’re familiar with the different types of safety violations, you might be wondering what specific violations are the most common. Here were OSHA’s top cited violations in 2021:
The number one OSHA violation is not protecting your employees from falls. OSHA requires employers to install safety features to prevent falls from occurring on the worksite. Specifically, these rules apply to unprotected surfaces more than six feet above the ground.
The OSHA fall protection rules state that employees working above six feet must have guardrails, a personal fall arrest system, a safety net system, or another protection system in place to be compliant. You can learn about OSHA's fall protection guidelines here.
If your working conditions expose workers to air contaminants like gas, dust, smoke, fumes and vapors, your employees' respiratory systems may be at risk. To prevent injury, OSHA regulations require adequate PPE and good ventilation.
Another requirement is that all employees using respirators must receive medical evaluations to prove they are fit to wear one at work.
During the pandemic, employers struggled to protect their workers’ respiratory systems and provide essential PPE, landing this at the number two most cited OSHA violation. Check out OSHA’s full respiratory guidelines here.
Ladders are used in many different types of workplaces. Unfortunately, they continue to be a leading safety hazard for employees. For example, if an employee is using the top step of the ladder or carrying objects while on the ladder, you violate OSHA rules. Here are OSHA’s guidelines on ladders to keep your employees safe.
When your employees are working on scaffolding of ten feet or more, OSHA general requirements state you must have a qualified professional design, construct and create a layout to ensure the safety of your workers.
For example, all scaffoldings must be on an adequate foundation and have guardrails in place to prevent falls. If this is not done properly, you will receive a violation. Read the full guidelines here.
If your company handles hazardous chemicals on-site, you’re required to have a written hazard communication plan that describes how you will meet all of OSHA’s standards in this area. Some of the standards include labeling chemicals correctly and providing safety data sheets and safety training. You can check out the full standards here.
Other Common OSHA Violations
Other common general industry OSHA violations include:
- Lockout/Tagout violations for not protecting your employees from electrical, thermal, or chemical hazards that may cause harm when equipment is being serviced.
- Fall Protection–Training Requirements violations for not properly training your employees on how to avoid falls.
- Personal Protective and Lifesaving Equipment–Eye and Face Protection violations for not providing proper PPE to your staff for their eyes and face.
- Powered Industrial Truck violations for not upholding standards regarding the design, maintenance, or operation of powered industrial trucks, like forklifts.
- Machine Guarding violations for not adequately protecting machine operators and employees from safety hazards while on the job.
To search specific NAICS class code violations visit osha.gov.
Implementing Best Workplace Safety Practices
The best way to protect your workers is to uphold all of OHSA’s standards, like using guardrails and barriers to prevent falls and displaying safety posters to inform employees of potential hazards.
Keep in mind OSHA violations can be used as evidence in a costly workers’ comp lawsuit, which no business owner wants.
So keeping on top of OSHA’s rules is the best way to protect you and your employees. Now all that’s left to do? Start creating a safety program today.