OSHA Identifies Most Common Safety Violations

By Kathy Gurchiek Nov 27, 2007
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Scaffolding-related violations topped the list of federal occupational safety standards most often violated during fiscal 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The list reflects standards violations of federal OSHA regulations from October 2006 through September 2007. The list indicates how many citations were given to various industries, broken down by division under the Standard Industrial Classification codes.

Division C Construction, for example, runs the gamut, including general building contractors, electrical work, concrete work, roofing, siding and sheet metal work.

“They’re all very serious [violations] … because these are the types of violations that are going to hurt somebody or they’re going to kill somebody,” although the number of injuries and fatalities has decreased dramatically in the past 10 to 15 years, said Richard E. Fairfax, director of the DOL’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs.

The top 10 OSHA violations during fiscal 2007 were:

  1. Scaffolding standard No. 19260451, cited 9,949 times. Of that number, 9,907 citations were to Division C construction companies.
  2. Fall protection standard No. 19260501, cited 6,567 times. Of that number, 6,496 citations were to Division C construction companies.
  3. Hazard communication standard No. 19101200, cited 6,012 times. Of that number, 2,429 citations were to Division D manufacturing companies; 1,559 were by Division C construction companies. This usually deals with training and education on the safe and proper use of hazardous chemicals.
  4. Lockout/tagout of hazardous energy standard No. 19100147, cited 3,694 times. Of that number, 2,917 citations were to Division D manufacturing companies.
  5. Respiratory protection standard No. 19100134, cited 3,472 times. Of that number, 1,983 citations were to Division D manufacturing companies.
  6. Powered industrial trucks standard No. 19100178, cited 3,312 times. Of that number, 1,790 citations were to Division D/Manufacturing companies. Usually deals with improper forklift operation attributable to lack of training.
  7. Wiring methods, components and equipment for general use standard No. 19100305, cited 2,988 times. Of that number, 1,813 citations were to Division D/Manufacturing companies.
  8. Ladders standard No. 19261053, cited 2,780 times. Of that number, 2,751 citations were to Division C/Construction companies.
  9. General requirements for all machines standard No. 19100212, cited 2,528 times. Of that number, 2,086 citations were to Division D/Manufacturing companies.
  10. General requirements standard No. 19100303, cited 2,349 times. Of that number, 1,358 citations were to Division D/Manufacturing companies.

The top 10 violations among the approximately 7 million industries seem perennial, although sometimes shifting in order and accounting for between 45 percent and 50 percent of all OSHA violations, Fairfax said.

“If you’d looked at that list eight or 10 years ago, what you would have seen were a lot of violations that didn’t impact health and safety,” such as infractions related to record keeping or OSHA posters, “not stuff that would cause serious injury or serious health effects,” he noted.

“A whole lot of employers are trying to do the right thing, and a whole lot of employers don’t meet their obligations under [OSHA], so we try to direct all of our inspections … where the fatalities are higher, injuries are higher.”

The information is then used “as a tool to determine whether we’re still going to the right places” for inspections, he said.

Employers with 100 or fewer employees run the greatest risk of not meeting OSHA regulations, he told SHRM Online, because often they don’t have the resources of larger organizations that might be able to afford to hire a safety health professional or consultant.

“Some employers just don’t know. They’re not ignoring their responsibilities; they just don’t know,” Fairfax said.

“Other employers have some sense of [their health and safety responsibilities] but they don’t have the training or background to know what they should be doing,” while others don’t care or get so involved with day-to-day operations they don’t notice infractions such as a guardrail that has been removed, he added.

“The first thing [employers] need to do is have somebody qualified in safety and health,” such as a consultant or someone from OSHA , “to walk through their facility and see if they have any of these hazards” and then work to fix those problems, he advised.

One resource for small employers, he said, is OSHA’s free, confidential consultation service, available in all 50 states. Employers can find more information on requesting the state-provided service by going to the OSHA Consultation Directory.

Most consultations occur on the worksite, according to OSHA, and use government staff to:

  • Help the small employer recognize hazards in the workplace.
  • Suggest general approaches or options for solving a safety or health problem.
  • Identify the kinds of help available to the employer if further assistance is needed.
  • Provide a written report summarizing the findings.
  • Assist the employer in developing or maintaining an effective safety and health program.
  • Provide training and education for the employer and employees.
  • Recommend a one-year exclusion from OSHA programmed inspections once program criteria are met.

The consultants do not issue citations or propose penalties for OSHA standards violations, report possible violations to OSHA enforcement staff or guarantee that the workplace will pass an OSHA inspection, according to the OSHA web site.

When employers work toward a safe and healthy workplace, Fairfax said, there is a decrease in injury and illness rates, workers’ compensation rates, and absentee rates.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News . She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org.

For the latest HR-related business and government news, go daily to www.shrm.org/hrnews.

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