Top 10 OSHA Violations for 2017

Fall protection, hazard communication and scaffolding violations top the list again


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced the 10 most frequently cited workplace safety violations for fiscal year 2017. The results are preliminary, but the agency doesn't expect much to change.

"The top 10 list is pretty consistent from year to year with maybe a slight change in the ordering of the violations," said Tressi Cordaro, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Washington, D.C. "The hazards covered by the standards on this list are generally severe hazards, such as fall protection, lockout/tagout and machine guarding."

Fall protection is such a big category because a lot of fatalities are due to falls—particularly in construction but also in general industry, said Ed Foulke, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta and the former head of OSHA under George W. Bush. Employers are required to notify OSHA within eight hours of a fatality, which prompts a workplace inspection.

Foulke noted that new rules on fall protection, ladders and walking/working surfaces may lead to changes in the top violations for fiscal year 2018.

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Determine Regulatory Requirements for Safety]

Here are the top 10 cited violations as announced by OSHA at the National Safety Council's 2017 Congress and Expo in Indianapolis in September:

  • 1. Fall Protection. There were 6,072 fall protection violations in the construction industry. This number is down from 6,906 in fiscal year 2016. These violations include failing to guard edges and open sides to prevent workers from falling.

  • 2. Hazard Communication. There were 4,176 citations in 2017, which is down from 5,665 in 2016. Employers that use hazardous chemicals must have a written hazard communication program. They are also required to label all containers and provide safety data sheets and training to employees.

  • 3. Scaffolding. There were fewer scaffolding violations in the construction industry in 2017 (3,288) than in 2016 (3,900). Safety violations include issues with scaffold construction, employee access to scaffolding surfaces and lack of guardrails.

  • 4. Respiratory Protection. Violations fell by 476 to 3,097 in 2017. Violations include failing to have a written respiratory-protection program and failing to conduct required medical examinations for workers who use respirators.

  • 5. Lockout/Tagout. Violations have dropped by 529 to 2,877. Lockout/tagout procedures are meant to safeguard employees when machinery starts up unexpectedly or when hazardous energy is released during maintenance activities. Failing to train workers or conduct periodic inspections account for many violations.

  • 6. Ladders. Improper use of ladders resulted in 2,241 citations in 2017 compared to 2,625 in 2016.

  • 7. Powered Industrial Trucks. Forklift drivers must be trained, certified and reevaluated every three years. Improper fork lift use and training account for many violations. There were 2,162 violations in 2017 compared to 2,855 in 2016.

  • 8. Machine Guarding. There were 1,933 total violations in 2017—down from 2,448 in 2016. Machine guarding is meant to protect workers from point-of-operation hazards and dangers caused by ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips and sparks. Point-of-operation hazards account for most violations.

  • 9. Fall Protection Training Requirements. There were 1,523 fall protection training violations in 2017. This category wasn’t on the top ten list in 2016.

  • 10. Electrical Wiring Methods. Faulty electrical wiring methods accounted for 1,405 violations—down from 1,937 in 2016. Frequent violations include improper use of extension cords.

Compliance Tips

"If employers have hazards at the worksite that are on this list, they should review their programs and policies to ensure they are up-to-date and in compliance," Cordaro said.

Since a lot of the frequent violations on this list relate to training, employers should also periodically audit their training records to make sure all employees have received appropriate training for the hazards they encounter in their daily jobs, she added. "For issues like machine guarding, periodic walkarounds help to ensure all guards are in place or that missing guards are caught and corrected before an incident occurs."

Compliance can be a challenge for small and midsize businesses because they may not have a full-time safety professional on staff, Foulke said, noting that businesses of any size can do the following:

  • Hold weekly safety talks. Employers should review all the applicable OSHA standards and talk to employees for about 15 minutes on one topic each week. After a year, an employer should have touched on all the relevant topics at least once.
  • Post a list of safety rules and enforce them. Employers should make sure workers are familiar with the rules and understand that violations of the rules won't be tolerated.
  • Look at OSHA 300 logs (which employers use to record worksite injuries and illnesses) and conduct an incident analysis for each entry to figure out the root cause of the incidents and ways to eliminate future risks.
  • Perform an accident investigation and root cause analysis for near misses as well. These are incidents that could have easily resulted in a serious injury but did not.

These steps can have a dramatic impact on a business' safety program and in the long run can reduce the expenses associated with workplace injuries and illnesses, Foulke said.


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