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Understanding the Dynamics of OSHA Violations

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for promoting health and safety awareness among workers and regulating OSHA standards by overseeing workplaces to a large extent. But on the other hand, the federal agency also carries out safety protocols to ensure safety and imposes citations and fines on companies/businesses violating OSHA safety requirements.

Learning about OSHA safety violations empowers employers and employees to create and maintain a safe work atmosphere; it also counts as a crucial step towards promoting legal compliance, risk mitigation, productivity, cost savings, and maintaining a positive reputation. 

But before going into the details of the types of OSHA violations, let’s dive into its key dynamics first!

How can OSHA Violations be Defined?

OSHA violations refer to instances where employers fail to comply with the safety and health standards set by OSHA. The dynamics of OSHA violations can vary depending on several factors, including the nature of the violation, the severity of the violation, the employer’s history of violations, and the actions OSHA took in response to the violation.

Here are some key dynamics to consider:

  • Violation Identification: OSHA violations can be identified through various means, including workplace inspections, employee complaints, or reports of accidents or injuries. OSHA inspectors may visit workplaces to assess compliance with safety regulations.
  • Types of Violations: OSHA violations can fall into several categories, such as serious violations, willful violations, repeat violations, failure to abate violations, and others. Serious violations are those where there is a substantial probability of death or serious harm. Willful violations involve intentional disregard or indifference to the law. Repeat violations occur when an employer has previously been cited for a similar violation.
  • Citations and Penalties: When OSHA identifies a violation, they issue a citation to the employer, outlining the specific violation(s) and proposing penalties. Penalties can vary based on the severity and type of violation. OSHA may also require employers to correct the violation within a specified timeframe.
  • Contesting Violations: Employers have the right to contest OSHA citations and penalties. They can request an informal conference with OSHA to discuss the violations, present evidence, or negotiate settlements. If an agreement cannot be reached, the employer can formally contest the citation and request a hearing before an independent review commission.
  • Abatement and Compliance: Employers are responsible for correcting identified violations and ensuring compliance with OSHA standards. They must address the hazards and implement corrective measures to prevent future violations. OSHA may conduct follow-up inspections to verify compliance.
  • Repeat Offenders and Enforcement Actions: Employers with a history of OSHA violations may face more severe penalties, increased scrutiny, or additional enforcement actions. OSHA can target industries or employers with high injury or illness rates for inspections. In extreme cases, repeat offenders may be subject to higher fines, enhanced oversight, or criminal charges.

It’s essential to remember that OSHA regulations and enforcement policies can evolve with time. Hence, the dynamics of OSHA violations may fluctuate based on regional or national factors, government priorities, and changes in workplace safety regulations.

OSHA Violations to Steer Clear of:

Listed down below are the six crucial types of OSHA violations, each carrying a different penalty, which must be avoided at all costs.

1. Serious:

If a hazard with the potential to cause injury or death is known to a business owner or manager but remains unresolved, OSHA considers it a serious violation. The fines imposed depend on the severity of the violation and can reach a maximum of $13,653 per violation. 

However, engaging a workplace risk assessment consultant to identify and address these hazards may be more cost-effective before OSHA imposes expensive fines. 

In addition, OSHA penalties based on the severity of the violation are categorized into three groups. 

  1. High-gravity (serious) violations result in penalties of $14,502. 
  2. Moderate-gravity (semi-serious) violations carry fines ranging from $8,287 to $12,431. 
  3. Low-gravity (less serious) violations incur a penalty of $6,215 per violation.

2. Other-Than-Serious:

A violation that doesn’t cause harm or death but does compromise the well-being or safety of an employee is categorized as a non-serious threat, according to OSHA. The maximum penalty for this type of violation is the same as a serious one. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Agency can issue a citation or decrease the penalty by 95%.

Moreover, non-serious violations can be further classified into two categories. Minor minimal-only violations typically result in a mere warning without any financial penalty. On the other hand, significant minimal-only infractions can lead to a wide range of fines, varying from $1,000 to $14,502 for companies.

3. Willful or Repeated:

If a violation is repeated within a span of three years, companies will be subjected to harsher penalties, which can reach a maximum of $145,027. The most severe violations are classified as willful. This type of violation arises when the employer is aware of the potential risks to employees but fails to take any action to address them. In addition, employees are put in jeopardy due to willful and repeated safety violations. The severity of the penalty for a willful violation is adjusted based on the size of the company’s workforce.

4. Posting Requirements:

In the event of receiving a citation or violation notice from OSHA, every employer must display it in the vicinity of the incident area. The display must be easily noticeable by all employees and should remain in place until the violation is rectified or for a duration of three days, whichever concludes earlier.

5. Failure to Abate:

The OSHA notice specifies a deadline by which the safety violation must be resolved. Companies that fail to meet this deadline are liable to incur the maximum penalty per day.

6. De Minimis Violation:

An example of a De Minimis Violation can be seen in ladder safety. OSHA states that a ladder with a spacing of 13 inches between rungs instead of the required 12 inches is not fully compliant. In such cases, a formal citation or notice may only sometimes be needed, and OSHA might issue a verbal warning instead. A record of the violation is made in your company’s safety file, but penalties are only sometimes imposed.

Frequent OSHA Violations

If we talk about OSHA violation occurrences, some are more common than others while most of them are very easy to resolve too. Given below are a few OSHA violations that frequently happen resulting in an OSHA citation.

Fall Protection in Construction:

In order to mitigate this prevalent risk, employers must ensure a safe working environment. For instance, OSHA mandates that employers maintain clean and dry floors to ensure safe working conditions. Additionally, workers must receive comprehensive safety training and be provided with protective equipment at no expense.

Hazard Communications in General Industry:

OSHA mandates that chemical manufacturers and importers assess and record the potential hazards associated with their products. Furthermore, the transportation of these chemicals necessitates the inclusion of appropriate labels and data sheets. It is crucial to stay up to date with the relevant OSHA requirements for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

Scaffolding General Requirements in Construction:

OSHA enforces strict safety regulations for scaffolding on construction sites. These protocols mandate that workers wear fall protection equipment that adheres to OSHA standards while working on scaffolds. The company is responsible for providing the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).

  • Inspections are a requirement to assess the stability of the scaffolding structure. 
  • To ensure the safety of employees, all work materials, including tools and debris, must be contained and prevented from falling.
  • There are specific weight limits that must not be exceeded to maintain the structural integrity of the scaffolding. 

Additionally, the placement of scaffolding must adhere to guidelines prohibiting its proximity to power lines. The required distance may vary depending on the state-specific safety laws established by OSHA.

Consequences of OSHA Violations:

OSHA fines can surpass $15,625 per violation, and this amount can accumulate daily until the issue is resolved by OSHA’s deadline. The fine can be ten times higher in cases of willful or repeated violations. 

Additionally, there are indirect expenses that organizations may face if they fail to address common workplace hazards adequately. These expenses can range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and include:

  • Workers’ compensation claims from injured or ill employees.
  • Reduced productivity during and after incidents.
  • Decreased morale among the workforce due to fear and uncertainty regarding risky areas.
  • Time and effort spent identifying and rectifying the issue.
  • Costs associated with cleaning or replacing outdated, damaged, or broken equipment.
  • Legal and compliance fees.
  • Negative publicity and damage to the organization’s reputation.

The true costs of a safety violation cannot be accurately quantified since they involve human lives. It is crucial to strive for zero injuries and illnesses within your organization. 

Fortunately, avoiding an OSHA citation is easier and cheaper than many assume. Taking small steps can save organizations substantial amounts, ranging from six to seven figures, and prevent loss of life.