OSHA’s Top 10 List Reflects a Robust Enforcement Presence as well as a Continued Focus on the Construction Industry

The most notable thing about OSHA’s annual “10 Most Cited Violations announcement this year wasn’t the categories of safety standard violations on the list but the number of violations. It has increased significantly over FY 2022. The preliminary data for FY 2023 (October 1, 2022 – September 30, 2023) shows that the agency is continuing to flex its regulatory muscle — by hiring more compliance officers and prioritizing inspection targets — and by continuing its focus on the construction industry. 

It’s also clear that the agency’s enforcement presence has fully rebounded from the regulatory lull we experienced during the pandemic era.  

Top Five OSHA Violations for Construction Employers 

Since 2018, OSHA standards for general industry (29 CFR Part 1910) have comprised half of OSHA’s annual “top 10” violations list. Construction industry standards (Part 1926) make up the other half.  

In 2023, OSHA issued almost 40 percent more violations in the following construction categories than in 2022.  

Fall Protection violations in the construction industry are again at the top of the list this year— by a wide margin. OSHA has issued more than 7,271 for fall protection violations in 2023, over 2,000 more than in 2022. Fall protection also had more serious and willful violations than any other citation category.   

Ladder violations as of September 30, 2023 — at 2,978 — reflect an increase of more than 800 violations for the year. The OSHA standard for ladders, 1926.1053, includes guidelines for various types of ladders, including specifications concerning designated weight capacity and that “steps or rungs should be free of hazards that could cause slips.” The top industry cited for ladder violations is roofing contractors. 

Scaffolding violations increased significantly — from 2,058 to 2,859 — in 2023, with masonry contractors the most cited industry for violating OSHA’s scaffolding standard. This standard, 29 CFR 1926.451, says, among other things, that “every scaffold and its components must bear its weight and at least four times the maximum intended load.”  

Fall Protection Training violations in the construction industry increased for 2023 at 2,112 — up from 1,556 violations in 2022. Roofing contractors were among the most frequently cited industries for this violation. OSHA’s standard for fall protection — 1926.503 — indicates the employer’s responsibility to implement a training program to prevent falls and maintain a written certification record of each employee’s participation and completion of the program.  

PPE: Eye and Face Protection violations jumped to 2,074 this year, nearly 700 more than in 2022. Once again, roofing contractors were among the most often cited for violations of OSHA’s PPE standard — 1926.102. This standard requires employers to provide appropriate eye and face protection to protect workers from hazards such as “flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors or potentially injurious light radiation.” 

Top Five OSHA Violations for General Industry Employers 

Like the top violations specific to the construction industry, OSHA issued significantly more citations this year in the usual general industry categories. 

Hazard Communication violations are always near the top of any “most frequently cited” list. This year, 3,213 violations were cited. Hazard communication violations occurred in approximately 10 percent of all OSHA inspections. Standard 1910.1200 requires employers to train and inform their employees about hazardous chemicals in the workplace. 

Powered Industrial Truck violations rose from 1,749 in 2022 to 2,561 in 2023. OSHA Standard 1910.178 addresses the safety requirements of “fork trucks, tractors platform lift trucks, motorized hand trucks, and other specialized industrial trucks powered by electric motors or internal combustion engines.”  OSHA has recently announced plans to revise and update the powered industrial truck rule. The proposed update will reference the latest requirements published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Industrial Truck Standards Development Foundation (ITSDF).  

Lockout/Tagout violations — the unexpected, hazardous release of energy during machinery use and maintenance — increased 22 percent in 2023. The most common reason for receiving a citation involves not adequately training employees in proper lockout/tagout procedures. 

Respiratory Protection violations rose to 2,481 in 2023, a 4 percent increase over 2022. Automotive paint and body shops were the most likely to be cited for this violation. According to OSHA standard 1910.134, an employer must consider multiple factors to ensure safety from environmental hazards. OSHA provides a guide on respirator selection for different types of possible hazardous exposures.   

Machine Guarding violations rose from 1,370 in 2022 to 1,644 in 2023. OSHA defines machine guards as “barriers which prevent access to danger areas.” OSHA standard 1910.212 outlines the requirements to protect employees from “rotating and/or moving parts, or from flying chips or sparks.” Plastic product manufacturing companies were the most often cited for the absence, inadequacy, or misuse of machine guard apparatus. 

Penalties and Enforcement 

Civil penalties for OSHA violations increase with inflation every year. Last January, OSHA increased the maximum penalty for a willful or repeated violation from $145,027 per violation to $156,259. We can expect a similar increase in a few months.  

If you have any questions or concerns about the civil penalty policies of the federal government— or have been assessed a penalty for any reason — don’t hesitate to contact Orr & Reno for assistance. 

About the author: James F. Laboe

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