Top 10 OSHA Violations & Quick Tips for Reducing Citations

Editor’s note: This article was updated March, 2021 with the most recent stats released by OSHA for the 2020 fiscal year.

OSHA violations can seriously cost your company, learn how to spot the quick fixes

According to data presented by Patrick Kapust, deputy director of the OSHA Directorate of Enforcement Programs, OSHA issued more than 24,000 citations during the 2020 fiscal year. The information was presented during a webinar hosted by Safety and Health magazine on February, 26, 2020.

Of course, keeping employees safe and healthy is always the top priority. However, the reality is, that following OSHA safety compliance is also crucial for your business. Penalties for OSHA violations are no joke—ranging from $13,653 per violation to $13,653 per day beyond the abatement date up to $136,532 per violation.

In this article we’ll review the most common OSHA violations, as well as the top cited OSHA violations of 2020. By the end of the article, you’ll also walk away with tips for quickly identifying and addressing compliance issues for some of the most common violations.

What are the most common OSHA violations?

You may be surprised to learn that the most common OSHA violations in the last decade haven’t actually changed much from year to year. In fact, the top cited OSHA violations tend to remain the same, merely changing positions in the top ten lineup.

Over the last decade, the standards for fall protection, hazard communication (HazCom), respiratory protection and scaffolding have been the most commonly cited for OSHA violations.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 OSHA violations for respiratory protection dramatically rose, shifting the category from fifth to third place overall.

Facility worker passing by a danger sign and a notice sign about fall protection. In the second image, another facility worker is moving a large drum with a safety sign adhered to the side

1) Most-cited OSHA violation of 2020: Fall Protection, construction

Standard 1926.501 OSHA Violation: Employers failed to protect workers from falling off platforms, elevated workstations and/or into holes in the floor and walls.

Number of violations: 5,424

Pro tip: Installing engineering controls such as guard rails take time to plan and execute. In the meantime, it’s important to quickly alert workers to potential safety hazards.

2) HazCom OSHA violations, general industry

Standard 1910.200 OSHA Violation: Failure to communicate to employees the risks posed by exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace. Includes regulations regarding GHS labels and SDS.

Number of violations: 3,199

Pro tip: Creating your own OSHA-compliant GHS labels is relatively low-hanging fruit if you have the right tools. Our GHS Wizard® label design softwarefeatures a huge database of chemicals and substances powered by Chemwatch™. You can autofill predesigned GHS label templates in under five minutes.

3) Respiratory Protection violations, general industry

Standard 1910.134 OSHA Violation: Failure to protect workers from breathing contaminated air. Either by preventing contaminated atmosphere or providing, maintaining and requiring air-purifying respirators for each employee.

Number of violations: 2,649

4) Scaffolding OSHA violations, general requirements, construction

Standard 1926.451 OSHA Violation: Employers failed to provide proper structure and/or support for employees working on or near scaffolding.

Number of violations: 2,538

5) OSHA violations for Ladders Standard, construction

Standard 1926.1053 OSHA Violation: Employers failed to provide ladders which passed minimum weight requirements, rung and step standards, anti-slippage standards, proper material construction and/or placement and clearance of ladders in the workplace.

Number of violations: 2,129


Danger do not operate tag attached to equipment. In the second image, a hanging safety data sheet binder with chain attached to metal shelving.

6) Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout), general industry

Standard 1910.147 OSHA Violation: Failure to protect employees from unexpected start up or release of hazardous energy while servicing and maintaining machines and equipment.

Number of violations: 2,065

Pro tip: Review safety labels and tags, facility-wide. If a label or tag is required by OSHA (for example LOTO tags) it’s important that the label or tag is not only present, but intact and legible. Replace old, damaged labels and tags with durable industrial-grade labels and minimum 50lb pull-strength tags that meet OSHA requirements.

7) Powered Industrial Trucks, general industry

Standard 1910.178 OSHA Violation: Powered industrial trucks did not meet design and construction requirements for fire safety, and/or were not properly labeled reflecting approval testing status.

Number of violations: 1,932

8) Fall Protection— OSHA violations for training requirements

Standard 1926.503 OSHA Violation: Employers failed to provide a training program to teach employees to recognize fall hazards and what to do to minimize them. Includes instituting fall-protection training programs and/or maintaining and updating certification records.

Number of violations: 1,621

Pro tip: Make sure hard copies of training and inspection certification records are intact and legible. Store loose documents neatly organized in a binder, indexed with dividers.

Consider backing up hard copies with digital files. A simple QR code label will allow OSHA inspectors to access digital records with a smartphone.

9) OSHA violations for eye and face PPE

Standard 1926.102 OSHA Violation: Employers failed to provide and/or enforce the use of adequate physical protection for eyes and face.

Number of violations: 1,369

10) Machinery and Machine Guarding, general requirements

Standard: 1926.212 OSHA Violation: Failure to protect employees operating machines or working in machine areas, from hazards such as nip points, flying chips, and sparks.

Number of violations: 1,313

More tips for quickly fixing “low hanging fruit”

OSHA violations can be very costly, so it’s important to stay on top of regulations and reduce potential citations any way you can. HazCom OSHA violations are especially common, but can also be some of the easiest to fix with the right tools.

Here are the easiest things you can do to increase HazCom compliance:

Update GHS chemical labels. HazCom OSHA violations remain at the top of the list year after year. Primary chemical containers must have durable GHS chemical labels. To avoid a citation, it’s not a bad idea to use them as default to help you ace OSHA secondary container labeling, either.

Update safety data sheets. SDS is an important part of HazCom. Double check that SDS for all chemicals used in your facility are up to date, and stored in an accessible location for employees. Go the extra mile with easy SDS binder updates that make it even easier for employees to stay informed.

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