Last week at the National Safety Council Congress and Expo in Atlanta, Patrick Kapust, the deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, released the top 10 most frequently cited workplace safety violations for the 2015 fiscal year. This list highlights areas in which both workers are displaying poor safety-related behaviors and organizations are failing to maintain safety standards, whether unintentionally or due to purposeful negligence. However, most importantly, these violations often lead to safety incidents that result in employee injuries and deaths, most of which are avoidable. Therefore, let’s take a quick look at each to remind ourselves of their associated risks and safety regulations.
- Fall Protection (6,721 violations): Falls are among the most common causes of serious workplace injuries and deaths. Therefore, it is critical that workers are provided with fall protection equipment such as harnesses, and that elevated job sites (6 feet or higher) are protected with measures such as guard rails, toe boards, and safety nets.
- Hazard Communication (5,192 violations): The Hazard Communication Standard provides a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets. Chemical manufacturers must evaluate the dangers of the chemicals they produce and prepare hazard information for their customers. Employers with these chemicals at their work sites are required to train employees to understand hazard information and appropriately handle chemicals.
- Scaffolding (4,295 violations): Common in industries such as construction and longshoring, scaffolding is often necessary to complete certain jobs. 72% of accidents happen when the planking or support gives way, employees slip, or employees are struck by falling objects. The Safety Standards for Scaffolds Used in the Construction Industry is a good resource for ensuring that your company is following safety guidelines.
- Respiratory Protection (3,305 violations): Five million workers in 1.3 million U.S. workplaces must wear respirators while on the job. Breathing in noxious gasses can cause instant death or long-term diseases. Thus, respirators protect workers from harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors, and sprays, as well as environments of insufficient oxygen, either by removing contaminants from the air or providing an independent air supply. More information can be found in OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard
- Lockout/Tagout (3,002 violations): These procedures concern the control of hazardous energy sources such as electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, and thermal. The risk here involves the unexpected startup or release of stored energy, which can result in serious injury or death. These accidents are 100% preventable, so it is important that managers enforce lockout/tagout procedures to disable machinery or equipment before machine operators and electricians begin servicing them. See more here.
- Powered Industrial Trucks (2,760 violations): Because forklifts are used to lift and move heavy objects, they pose a variety of hazards to employees including falls off of docks, flipping over due to the weight loaded, and striking other employees and equipment on the worksite. Thus, only competent employees who have been trained and/or certified to operate these vehicles should ever drive them, and workers under the age of 18 should never be allowed on them.
- Ladders (2,489 violations): Anyone who has climbed a ladder to change a lightbulb at home knows that they can be dangerous due to their instability and potential for falling. This is even more salient for workers who must climb extremely tall ladders or use them in awkward locations to perform their jobs. Managers should ensure that the ladders their employees use are structurally sound to support the weight of the worker and materials he/she is carrying, and that rungs are kept free of slipping hazards such as oil and wet paint. Other requirements, including locking devices and how to angle ladders can be found in OSHA’s Stairways and Ladders Guide.
- Electrical – Wiring Methods (2,404 violations): Working with electricity is obviously quite dangerous, and although this hazard is thought to be specific to electricians and associated workers, wiring safety is important to every worker on the job site. For example, a construction crew building a home could be put at risk if unsafe installation procedures cause a fire. Thus, every step of the wiring process, whether it be grounding conductors, insulation, or final installations should be taken with caution, and only licensed workers should be included in performing any of these tasks.
- Machine Guarding (2,295 violations): Moving machine parts have the potential to burn, lacerate, crush, and amputate workers’ body parts, or even kill them. Therefore, every machine with moving parts, such as saws, presses, and plastics machinery, is required to be safeguarded at all times, not just when workers must interact with or operate them. Guards usually come stock with the machine, and managers must ensure that employees never remove them even if it helps them perform their jobs more easily or quickly.
- Electrical – General Requirements (1,973 violations): This hazard is typically coupled with #8, particularly on new installation jobs, but is more general and covers overall safety regulations of electrical work, including things such as PPE, job planning requirements, and circuit exposure. Again, this work should only be performed by a licensed professional.
Given what we know about workplace injury and death rates, it is frustrating to see how many citations were handed out this year. As I said earlier, most of the safety incidents that result from these hazards are preventable. Whenever incidents are preventable, it highlights the importance of employees exhibiting strong SafetyDNA in their everyday work behaviors. It also reminds us of the need for strong safety leadership in setting high safety standards and enforcing them consistently.
I urge managers and safety leaders who have employees that may be exposed to any or all of these safety threats to review the standards provided in this post to ensure that your daily operations exceed federal guidelines. These are our greatest workplace risks, but they don’t have to be.