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Posted by Stephanie on May 13, 2024

Whether you manage a warehouse or a construction site, workplace safety should be a priority for your business. Keeping your personnel safe while they’re on the job allows them to be more productive and efficient. If employees believe they may be injured in the workplace, their productivity will likely drop off. 

Since 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has aimed to ensure safe workplaces nationwide. They aim to ensure that employees can work in healthy and secure conditions. The standards that they enforce are designed to prevent work-related illnesses and injuries. Their guidelines have also reduced the number of deaths that occur every year. 

OSHA can enforce its standards by performing intensive inspections. If you don’t pass an inspection, you could face strict penalties. This article answers the question, “What are OSHA violations?”. You’ll also learn how to prevent violations and maintain a safe workplace. 

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What is OSHA?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was formed in 1970 when Congress passed a law to address workplace safety. OSHA’s mission is to assure healthful and safe conditions for employees by creating and enforcing standards that companies must abide by. They also provide training, education, compliance assistance, and outreach

Keep in mind that OSHA has jurisdiction over all workplaces throughout the U.S. Because of the standards that OSHA enacted, work-related fatalities have been reduced by more than 60% since 1970. In 1970, around 14,000 employees were killed while on the job, which averages out to around 38 each day. In 2021, just under 5,200 workers died, which is an average of 14 per day. OSHA regularly updates its guidelines to take new technologies into account.

Understanding OSHA Violations

OSHA has five distinct violations that they can levy against a company. These violations have different severity levels and penalties associated with them. The primary OSHA violation categories include the following:

  • Serious violations
  • Willful violations
  • Repeated violations
  • Other-than-serious violations
  • De minimis violation

A serious violation occurs when a manager or business owner is aware of a hazard and knows it might cause injury or death but does not resolve it. Serious violations come with some of the highest fines. You can save money by hiring a risk assessment consultant to inspect your facility and identify any hazards that must be addressed

Willful and repeated violations are severe. A willful violation occurs when an employer knows that their employees are at risk and doesn’t take action to resolve the issue. This violation is similar to a “serious” one. You can avoid it by getting rid of hazards immediately upon detecting them

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If OSHA says that the violation is repeated, it will have occurred at least twice in three years. Penalties for repeated violations are much higher. You can reduce a willful penalty if you have a smaller workforce.

If an employee’s safety or health is compromised but the incident didn’t result in injury or death, the violation would likely be labeled “other-than-serious.” This type of violation comes with the same penalties as a serious one. However, OSHA can lower the penalty associated with an other-than-serious violation by up to 95%

de minimis violation occurs when OSHA notices a minor safety issue that needs to be corrected before the next inspection. For example, a ladder can only comply with OSHA standards if are 12 inches between each rung. If one of the ladders in your workplace has 14 inches between each rung, it must be compliant. However, this is a minor problem, so OSHA often responds to de minimis violations by providing a verbal warning or citation. You likely won’t face penalties while a note will be made in your facility’s safety file. 

Common OSHA Violations

Workplace hazards are standard and only sometimes easy to avoid. However, it should be easy for you to resolve them. Among the most common hazards is inadequate fall protection in construction. OSHA standards and regulations for this issue can be found in part 1926. Employees must provide construction workers with a safe environment that reduces the potential for falls. Floors must also be kept dry and clean. Employees also need to receive fall protection safety training

Companies are also commonly cited for not having respiratory equipment on hand. This specific OSHA standard is present in part 1910 and applies to general industry, construction, long shoring, shipyards, and marine terminals. It states that each employee shall have access to a respirator when this equipment is needed to protect their health.

OSHA violations occur daily. Let’s look at an example from 2015. OSHA found that more than 1,000 workers were injured at a Wisconsin site for Ashley Furniture during the 36 months preceding the inspection. The citations involved 12 repeated, 12 willful, and 14 serious violations. OSHA fined Ashley Furniture $1.76 million because of these violations.

Implications of OSHA Violations

The legal consequences for employers who face an OSHA violation can be severe. For all serious and other-than-serious issues, the maximum acceptable amounts to $16,131 per violation. If the employer doesn’t resolve the cause of the breach by the abatement date that OSHA sets, they will pay $16,131 every day until they make the necessary fixes. All willful or repeated violations come with fines of up to $161,323

Employee morale can take a sizable hit when an employer is cited for an OSHA violation. The company’s reputation in the workplace will invariably suffer once the employer shows that they are taking it seriously and will avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future. 

Preventing OSHA Violations

To avoid losing a large sum of money, it’s best to prevent OSHA violations from happening in the first place. Any money you spend on preventive strategies will be less than you’d pay for a violation. You’ll also improve worker safety, which may help boost productivity. 

First, understand OSHA regulations and how they apply to your company. These standards can involve everything from having a mezzanine in your warehouse to ensuring every employee has access to safety equipment

You must also invest in providing your employees with training and education about complying with OSHA standards. A comprehensive training program will teach employees how to:

Over time, you can develop a culture of safety in your workplace. If you run internal safety audits, it will be easier for you to mitigate risks and comply with OSHA standards. Whether a piece of machinery is outdated or a fall hazard hasn’t been tended to, a safety audit can identify these issues and help you fix them before the next inspection occurs. Consider running quarterly safety audits.

Responding to OSHA Inspections

OSHA will likely perform inspections at your workplace from time to time. As an employer, you have the right to ask compliance officers for an inspection warrant before they get into your worksite. During the inspection, you should walk with the compliance officer to note any corrections that need to be made. 

Many OSHA inspections occur without any forewarning. However, you can prepare for an inspection by training your employees, keeping comprehensive records, and performing routine hazard assessments. The types of inspections that OSHA can conduct include the following:

  • Imminent danger inspections: If OSHA is told of a life-threatening situation, they can perform this inspection to prevent further injuries. These inspections can be triggered without notice.
  • Complaints: Employees have the right to call OSHA whenever they need to. In this scenario, OSHA sends an official written notice of the complaint before scheduling an inspection.
  • Severe illnesses or injuries: OSHA will perform this inspection if a workplace incident caused a severe or fatal injury to at least four employees. When this type of incident occurs, employers must report it within eight hours.
  • Targeted inspection: A targeted inspection is often ordered for facilities that work with hazardous materials. They can also apply to industries with a high illness and injury rate.
  • Follow-up inspection: If a violation is found, your compliance officer will give you some time to rectify the situation, after which a follow-up inspection will ensure you’ve made the necessary corrections. Failure to abate can lead to additional citations and fines.

Conclusion

While OSHA violations often come with significant fines and penalties, you can avoid them by following their standards and maintaining a safe and healthy workplace. Workplace safety is essential for every business. You can avoid lawsuits, fines, and other consequences by keeping hazards out of your workplace. Employees who feel safe are usually more productive. Regardless of the type of business you run, it’s recommended that you prioritize OSHA compliance and employee well-being.

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