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The Most Cited OSHA Standards and What They Mean for All of Us

LadderFallsThe Most Cited OSHA Standards… it’s a list that changes little from year to year. Every time the latest list of most-cited OSHA standards comes out, it feels a bit familiar. But it’s an important reminder of the safety issues that we still need to work on and that are responsible for more than 4,500 worker deaths each year.

OSHA’s Most Cited Safety Violations

1.   Fall Protection
2.   Hazard Communication
3.   Scaffolding
4.   Respiratory Protection
5.   Lockout/Tagout
6.   Powered Industrial Trucks
7.   Ladders
8.   Machine Guarding
9.   Electrical Wiring
10. Electrical, General Requirements

What the List Tells Us

The physical and machine-based work that is common across jobsites means that danger is always present. The list of violations reveals two types of deficiencies: inadequate physical protection and lack of communication.

Fall protection is the leading cause of death on worksites, and it is a protective equipment issue. The protective devices needed to keep workers safe from falls range from PPE like harnesses and lifelines through to site-specific features like guardrails and toe-boards, safety nets, stair railings, and hand rails. Fatal falls and injuries also factor into scaffolds and ladders, which appear as number three and number seven on this list.

Respiratory protection is fourth on the list. Breathing is often taken for granted as a workplace activity. Its dangers don’t appear as obvious as those from tools, machinery, or vehicles. Additionally, the damage often only shows up hours or even years after exposure, making its cause harder to pinpoint.

For example, silica dust and asbestos are respirable hazards whose effects only show up long after workers have punched the clock. In many cases, workers are offered paper face masks, which are inadequate protective devices for these risks. Even full-face respirators are intended to be used as a second level of defense after appropriate dust prevention procedures, like vacuuming and water sprays have been put in use.

Of particular interest is hazard communication (number two) and lockout/tagout (number five). These both point to communication issues related to adequate signage, signaling, and education.

This list – as well as all subsequent lists of the next ten or hundred OSHA citations – are not mere items on a board somewhere. Each citation represents workers whose lives have been cut short or seriously damaged by violations of clearly defined safety regulations.

The Causes Behind the Citations

In most cases, the reasons workplace safety regulations are violated come down to time, money, or inadequate compliance.

In terms of time, many project managers find themselves having to make critical choices. Whether the project is a one-off, or a daily occurrence, there are often many reasons why it might be tempting to hurry things up. It’s easy to fall behind on a project, leaving managers the choice to complete it late or to cut corners. Unfortunately, with many competing pressures, they don’t always choose the safest route.

In other situations, the causes are purely financial. A company might have to cut costs to be accepted as a vendor, for instance. However, in many circumstances, the costs of failing to comply with safety make the cost-cutting less of a bargain than it first seemed to be.

Workers Without a Voice

Industries like construction are filled with employees who have little say in their working conditions. Even if they have in-demand skills, they might be reluctant to raise their voices, even to a shop steward, for fear of retaliation. Anywhere that workers are worried they might lose their job if they raise an issue is a workplace where safety violations can continue without check.

Organizations like OSHA aim to speak for these workers by mandating policies, behaviors, and physical requirements that contribute to the goal of a 100% injury and fatality-free worksite.

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