In the ongoing quest for maximum safety in the workplace, OSHA’s annual release of their top 10 violations can offer employers a sense of which tasks and maneuvers may hold unexpected risk.
While you’re hopefully aiming to assess and avoid risk across the board at your company, targeted lists like this can be a great way to remind you of areas of concern you might have missed otherwise. After all, these violations are common for a reason, and the likelihood is that employers and workers alike are giving these regulations too little thought.
In this blog, we’ll go through the top 10 OSHA violations for 2021 in detail, offering further information about each violation as well as actionable tips for protecting your employees from these hazards.
1. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501)
With 5,295 violations noted, this is the most violated requirement on OSHA’s list. This requirement is an umbrella for many more specific fall prevention requirements, including the inclusion of guard rails and toe-boards, hole covers, and safety nets or harnesses, depending on the circumstances.
While some falls may be relatively harmless, a fall always has the potential to do serious harm or even cause death, especially in situations where workers are performing high above the ground. To ensure your employees’ safety, make sure any holes are either covered or guarded by a rail, any open-sided, elevated floor or platform is protected by a guard rail and toe-board, and (even if there’s no elevation involved) any situation where a worker could fall onto or into dangerous machinery is likewise safeguarded.
2. Respiratory Protection (1910.134)
Although respiratory dangers are commonplace on a variety of worksites, 2,527 violations were noted by OSHA in the past year. In order to prevent diseases and other harm that can result from workers breathing contaminated air, OSHA requires that employers provide the right respirator for each specific hazard to every employee onsite.
This may include everything from an air-purifying respirator to a positive pressure respirator or even a supplied-air respirator. To ensure you’re supplying your team with the appropriate respirators for the task at hand, make sure to familiarize yourself with the OSHA standard with proper respiratory safety training.
3. Ladders (1926.1053)
If you’re new to following OSHA requirements, you might be surprised at just how complicated the rules about ladders can get. But unlike home use, jobsite ladder use is serious business — so serious that 2,026 people got it wrong this year.
There are ladder safety details to watch out for, but the most pertinent are these: portable ladders should support four times the intended load, while fixed ladders must support a minimum of 250 pounds on each side; rungs and cleats must be 10-14 inches apart; two or more ladders must not be tied together or stacked to add length; and ladder rungs should be level, parallel, and evenly-spaced.
4. Scaffolding (1926.451)
Like ladder use, scaffolding use calls for a wide range of requirements, from the broadly applicable to the minute. With 1,948 violations in 2021, it’s clear that many employers aren’t aware of just how detailed scaffold safety requirements can get.
Again, the most pertinent requirements have to do with how much weight the different elements of the scaffolding can hold (4-6 times the maximum expected load) and the prevention of falls through guard rails and appropriate planking amount. OSHA also notes that scaffolding must be designed by someone qualified and be constructed in accordance with the design.
5. Hazard Communication (1910.1200)
OSHA reported 1,947 violations of the hazard communications requirement this year, which is shocking when you consider that communicating a hazard is the first step to protecting employees from it.
In this case, OSHA is specifically regulating the communication of chemical hazards, and both the type of chemical and circumstances of its use or transportation have a bearing on the specific rules about communication. For example, when workers are only handling chemicals in properly sealed containers, employers only need to ensure that the labels on the containers when they arrive aren’t tampered with or removed, rather than labeling them themselves.
6. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147)
This requirement, which was violated 1,698 times in 2021, refers to the control of what OSHA calls ‘hazardous energy,’ in which the starting-up of certain machines or release of stored energy within the machines can harm workers. Specifically, this requirement covers the maintenance and servicing of such equipment.
OSHA’s requirements on this get pretty complex, especially as they pertain to what they don’t cover (such as agriculture and construction equipment), but two of the main rules are, broadly: there needs to be a lockout/tagout safety protocol for servicing these machines and employees need to be trained on that protocol.
7. Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503)
This specific subsection of the general fall protection requirement was violated 1,666 times in the past year, which makes the general fall protection violations make a little more sense. If employees aren’t trained on preventing falls, it stands to reason that they’ll overlook the necessary requirements for keeping themselves and their coworkers safe from falls.
Essentially, this requirement holds that workers need to be trained on the fall prevention requirements of their jobsite, that they need to pass a certification proving that they’ve learned the necessary elements of the OSHA requirements, and that they must retrain if their employer ever has reason to believe they’ve either forgotten or never properly learned the skills in the original training.
8. Personal Protective and Lifesaving Equipment – Eye and Face Protection (1926.102)
Like the respiratory protection requirement, the face and eye safety standard requires employers to provide and ensure workers wear the appropriate protection for any task that would expose them to eye or face hazards, including sparks, molten metals, flying particles, chemical gases, or potentially harmful light radiation.
This one seems like an easy pass, but OSHA noted 1,452 violations in 2021. Make sure you’re prepared for every element of your next project by obtaining the correct protective gear for your employees.
9. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178)
If you use electric or internal combustion engine-powered trucks on your worksites — that includes forklifts, tractors, and platform lift trucks — make sure you follow OSHA’s forklift safety requirements, so you don’t wind up like the 1,420 employers who were in violation over the past year.
These requirements cover the design, maintenance, and operation of these vehicles, as well as fire prevention. Some of the requirements cover where and how these trucks should be used, what circumstances to avoid, and how they need to be marked to identify any post-factory attachments, among other concerns.
10. Machine Guarding (1910.212)
OSHA reported 1,113 violations of this requirement in 2021, indicating that far too many employers aren’t taking their workers’ safety seriously when it comes to machinery onsite.
1910.212 addresses the various kinds of machine guards that might be used on a worksite, including barrier guards, electronic safety devices, and two-hand trippers, and requires that the appropriate guard be used on any machine that may present a hazard in the form of flying particles, rotating parts, or nip points.
Individual OSHA violations may sometimes seem like an irritation rather than an indication that your worksite is unsafe—after all, many of these regulations are extremely specific—but OSHA creates these standards for a reason. They’re trying to help you keep your employees safe, which is of course better for your business in the long run.
Each year when the 10 violations are announced, it’s a great opportunity for your business to audit your practices, evaluate your emergency plans, and ensure your workers are properly trained for the hazards they face on the job.
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