Commonly Cited OSHA Safety Violations

Stay in Compliance. Protect Your Workers

Year after year, top 10 safety violations found by OSHA inspectors are the same, though the order may change. This article provides an overview of the OSHA regulation. It's not enough to become familiar with this list, those in construction and other affected industries must know and comply with the actual regulations. Be proactive and in compliance, avoid these violations, do not jeopardize your workers' safety.

OSHA's Top 10 Safety Violations​​

Fall Protection Systems

1926.501 Fall Protection

This standard outlines where fall protection systems are required and which systems are appropriate for the given situation. Being proactive is extremely important here, as in many cases inspectors cannot see the violation by simply "driving by."

During many types of construction work, OSHA requires fall protection when working at heights of 6 feet or more. The type of fall protection allowed under OSHA requirements depends on the structure and the work being done, e.g., railings, personal fall arrest systems, warning lines, etc. Many of the violations involve roof work (including low slope roofs) but are not limited to that—elevator shafts can pose fall hazards.   


1910.1200 HazCom

This regulation requires you to implement a program to inform employees of the hazards of chemicals they are exposed to on the job. The standard has several requirements—some of the main ones are also some of the ones that OSHA finds deficiencies in most often.

Employers must have a written record of what a company has done to comply with the standard. That includes a list of all the chemicals you use—in other words, a chemical inventory. 

All storage containers of hazardous chemicals covered under the standard need to be labeled with information on the chemical’s identity and hazards. 

You need to train all employees before their first exposure, and equally important, retrain them when new or different chemicals are introduced, or when there are changes in the way the chemicals are used.

Scaffolding in Construction

1926.451 Scaffolding

Holes in scaffold platforms can be just as lethal as holes in any other walking/working surface, thus adequate platform construction is critical. With a few exceptions, each platform, on all working levels, must be fully planked or decked between the front uprights and the guardrail supports.

There must be an adequate point of access for the scaffold platforms, such as a portable ladder, hook-on ladder, direct access from another scaffold, etc. OSHA allows several options for access.

Employees must be protected at 10 feet—but the type of fall protection varies by type of scaffold. In some cases a personal fall arrest system will be needed, for example, ladder jack scaffolds; in others, a guardrail and personal fall arrest system will be needed. Grablines may be needed also.

The key to staying in compliance with OSHA’s scaffolding for construction standard is to have a “competent person” in charge of compliance and oversight.

Respiratory Protection

1910.134 Respiratory Protection

Fumes, toxic, gases, and vapors, are a problem in the construction industry. The backbone of respiratory protection is having a good assessment of the exposures. This typically comes from an industrial hygiene assessment, which helps you determine the level of exposures and what appropriate respiratory protection is needed.

A common troublespot involves the use of particulate or dust masks (N95 versions being the most common). What many employers fail to realize is that dust masks such as N95s are considered respirators—and, if they are required to be used, then the full written respiratory program is required. 

Another common compliance troublespot is not having employees medically evaluated to see if they are physically capable of wearing the equipment.

A lack of fit testing is another common respiratory protection violation. Fit testing is a process and series of exercises by which you ensure each individual employee’s respirator is the correct size, is comfortable, and fits effectively.  

Lockout/Tagout Standard (LOTO)

1910.147 Lockout/Tagout

Workers servicing or maintaining machines or equipment may be seriously injured or killed if hazardous energy is not properly controlled. The lockout/tagout standard requires you to implement a program and procedures to control the unexpected release of energy during servicing and maintenance activities (e.g., the machine starts unexpectedly while being serviced). This applies to electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal, or other sources of energy in machines and equipment.  

Power Industrial Trucks (PIT)

1910.178 -Powered Industrial Trucks

Powered Industrial Truck (PIT) violations are another commonly cited item, partly because there are so many types of lift trucks across a wide variety of industries. Powered Industrial Trucks include forklifts, powered pallet jacks, stand-up rider lift trucks, order pickers, etc.

The major compliance issue is when employers fail to train operators on all the types of PIT equipment they operate. The training needs to be equipment-specific. You do not necessarily have to train each operator on every pallet jack made by different manufacturers, but OSHA does prohibit allowing an operator who only has forklift training to operate a powered pallet jack without additional training—the training must be for each “type” of equipment.

Ladders in Construction Work

1926.1053 Ladders

OSHA requires that when portable ladders are used for access to an upper landing surface, the ladder side rails must extend at least three feet above the upper landing surface to which the ladder is used to gain access; or, when such an extension is not possible because of the ladder’s length, then the ladder must be secured at its top to a rigid support that will not deflect, and a grasping device, such as a grabrail, must be provided to assist employees in mounting and dismounting the ladder.

Another common violation is when employees use ladders for something they aren’t designed for, such as using the ladder as a walking platform or a lifting device; OSHA prohibits these practices. OSHA also requires that ladders be in good shape. Portable ladders with structural defects, such as broken or missing rungs, cleats, or steps; broken or split rails; corroded components; or other faulty or defective parts, must either be immediately marked in a manner that readily identifies them as defective, or be tagged with “Do Not Use” or similar language, and must be withdrawn from service until repaired.  

General Machine Guarding

1910.212 Machine Guarding

This is a general guarding requirement. It doesn’t address specific machines, but it does require that employees be protected from dangerous parts by some method and also that the point of operation be guarded. The types of equipment may include (but is not limited to) conveyors, injection molding machines, metal cutting equipment, hydraulic presses, and balers.

The requirement also states that machines be anchored to prevent movement. This applies to machines designed to be at a fixed location and also to machines that could move during operation, for example, many drill presses.

Electrical Wiring, Components, Equipment

1910.305 Electrical, Wiring Methods

OSHA’s electrical standards are designed to protect employees exposed to dangers such as electric shock, arc flash, electrocution, fires, and explosions. Some common electrical violations involve grounding of equipment as well as the use of temporary wiring. For example, using temporary wiring (i.e., extension cords) in place of permanent wiring is a violation under most conditions. Even when allowed, it’s a violation to run flexible cords or cables through wall holes or ceiling holes. Also, not having strain relief on cords and cables is another common violation—OSHA requires this relief to prevent pull (or stress) from being directly transmitted to joints or terminal screws.

Electrical Systems Design

1910.303 Electrical Systems Design

OSHA requires employers to install and maintain equipment just as it was received from the manufacturer, and according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Plugging power strips into extension cords, rather than into the wall, typically goes against installation instructions and is an OSHA violation. It is also a violation when employers use equipment in the workplace that has only been labeled and listed for home use.