OSHA has issued a list of its most frequently cited standards for 2020. The list sheds light on OSHA’s enforcement agenda, as well as the areas where employers can improve and the safety issues to pay extra attention to.
Overall, OSHA issued fewer violations for its top 10 most cited standards in 2020 (24,239) than in 2019 (26,915), but this is still significant given the prolonged shutdowns and reduced operations due to COVID-19. And while the list looks largely similar to last year’s, certain issues — such as respiratory protection — have understandably moved up in priority.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 OSHA violations issued last year, as well as what employers can do to avoid them.
OSHA Top 10 Violations 2020
This list covers citations issued in FY 2020 (Oct. 1 2019 to Sept. 30 2020). The penalty for a serious or other-than-serious violation in 2020 was $13,494, while a willful or repeat violation carried a maximum penalty of $134,937. (Today, the penalties are $13,653 and $136,532 respectively.)
- Fall Protection - Construction
- Hazard Communication Standard - General Industry
- Respiratory Protection - General Industry
- Scaffolding - General Requirements, Construction
- Ladders - Construction
Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) - General Industry
- Powered Industrial Trucks - General Industry
Fall Protection – Training Requirements
Eye and Face Protection
- Machinery and Machine Guarding - General Requirements
1. Fall Protection - Construction
- Standard: 29 CFR 1926.501
- Citations: 5,424
- Previous year: #1
According to OSHA, falls are the leading cause of work-related deaths in the construction industry. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that fall protection once again tops OSHA’s list as the most frequently cited standard in 2020. OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at heights of six feet or greater in the construction industry. In addition, fall protection must be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery regardless of the height.
2. Hazard Communication Standard - General Industry
- Standard: 29 CFR 1910.1200
- Citations: 3,199
- Previous year: #2
Hazard communication remained the second most cited standard again this year. Commonly known as ‘HazCom’, this chemical safety standard requires employers to have labels and safety data sheets for their exposed workers, and train them to handle the chemicals appropriately.
It’s worth noting here that OSHA in February proposed a new rule to update its HazCom standard to align with GHS. To remain in compliance (or get up to speed), employers will need to maintain a GHS-compliant 16-section SDS for each chemical.
3. Respiratory Protection - General Industry
- Standard: 29 CFR 1910.134
- Citations: 2,649
- Previous year: 5 (↑2)
As you might expect, citations for the respiratory protection standard increased in 2020. OSHA issued 2,649 violations for this standard last year, compared to 2,450 in FY 2019. The most common reasons for citations include not providing a medical evaluation or fit test before the worker used a respiration, and not maintaining a written respiratory protection program with worksite-specific procedures.
4. Scaffolding - General Requirements, Construction
- Standard: 29 CFR 1926.451
- Citations: 2,538
- Previous year: #3 (↓1)
The scaffolding standard was bumped down to the #4 spot, but still racked up 2,538 citations in FY 2020. As we mentioned above, falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry — and about 15% of these are the result of falls from scaffolds. Lack of appropriate fall protection and planking are common reasons for citations, as are failure to provide a safe means of access, and insufficient support for the scaffold base.
5. Ladders - Construction
- Standard: 29 CFR 1926.1053
- Citations: 2,129
- Previous year: #6 (↑1)
Ladder requirements climbed up the list last year, claiming the #5 spot. This is the third height-related standard in the top 10. Clearly, fall hazards are a major enforcement priority for OSHA, and one that employers should pay close attention to. Using ladders outside their intended purpose, standing on the top rungs, and using a ladder on an unstable surface are common but dangerous practices that can result in a fall or violation.
6. Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) - General Industry
- Standard: 29 CFR 1910.147
- Citations: 2,065
- Previous year: #4 (↓2)
The lockout/tagout standard dropped from the #4 to #6 spot last year, but remains a focal point for OSHA inspectors. The fact that this standard consistently makes the top 10 list suggests that there’s still ample room for improvement. Failing to have equipment-specific procedures earns many employers a citation. Likewise, failing to provide training — or providing training that is too general — is a common mistake employers make.
7. Powered Industrial Trucks - General Industry
- Standard: 29 CFR 1910.178
- Citations: 1,932
- Previous year: #7
Forklifts continue to be one of the most frequent sources of violations, and a leading cause of work-related injuries and deaths. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most common forklift-related accidents involve forklift rollovers, workers on foot being struck by forklifts, and workers falling from forklifts. Failure to provide appropriate operator training — including refresher training and evaluation — is at the center of many citations.
8. Fall Protection – Training Requirements
- Standard: 29 CFR 1926.503
- Citations: 1,621
- Previous year: #8
Along with the fall protection standard, fall protection training requirements are among the top most cited OSHA standards. This underscores just how seriously OSHA takes fall protection — even in the face of a pandemic. The fall protection training standard states that employers must provide a training program for each employee who might be exposed to fall hazards. The program should teach employees to recognize the hazards of falling and the procedures to minimize these hazards.
9. Eye and Face Protection
- Standard: 29 CFR 1926.102
- Citations: 1,369
- Previous year: #10 (↑1)
Given the heightened awareness around PPE during COVID-19, it’s not surprising to see eye and face protection move up the list from #10 to #9. OSHA issued 1,369 citations for this standard in 2020, compared to 1,411 last year — but this is still significant considering that OSHA conducted far fewer inspections overall. Going forward, eye and face protection is likely to remain an enforcement priority.
10. Machinery and Machine Guarding - General Requirements
- Standard: 29 CFR 1910.212
- Citations: 1,313
- Previous year: #9 (↓1)
Lack of machine guarding rounded out this year’s top 10 list with a total of 1,313 violations. Any machine part, function, or process that can cause injury must be safeguarded. Shields, barriers, gates, holding tools, automated feeding and ejection mechanisms, and presence-sensing mats are just a few examples of safeguards that can be put in place to protect workers from preventable injuries.
Your next steps
By understanding which hazards have most frequently resulted in OSHA citations, you’ll be in a much better position to find and fix overlooked safety issues that have the potential to cause workers harm. Proactive measures like safety walkthroughs, formal inspections, and employee reporting systems can help you identify these issues before OSHA arrives.