Construction Employer’s Guide to Understanding OSHA Violations
October 3, 2023
Since the federal government created the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the agency has been at the forefront of efforts that have dramatically reduced the number of fatalities, injuries and illnesses in American workplaces. Most employers have become accustomed to visits by inspectors from OSHA and its state- and local-level partners, but some aren’t quite sure what constitutes violations or how they’re handled.
What Is an OSHA Violation?
When an inspector identifies something as a safety violation, what they’re saying is that a company and/or its workers are not acting in compliance with OSHA regulations.
OSHA violation types include a lengthy list of potential issues ranging from equipment lacking proper safety components to workers failing to use the correct personal protective equipment (PPE).
Citations spell out the specifics of the violation—including a reference to the regulation, rule, or standard that was violated—and establish a reasonable timeframe to abate the violation.
What Are the Types of OSHA Violations and Penalties?
OSHA violations fall into several categories, and the agency regularly establishes maximum fines for each category that follows (fine amounts are as of January 2023):
De Minimis Violations
This category is for situations that fail to comply with regulations but lack a direct effect on worker health or safety. For example, an employer may modify a piece of equipment in a way that’s not covered in the equipment’s operating manual, which technically constitutes a violation, but the inspector determines it doesn’t impair safety. There’s no fine for de minimis violations, but they are listed in OSHA’s inspection file.
This category recognizes violations that may not endanger workers but suggest the employer is not diligent in complying with regulations. Examples include failure to keep records in the proper format or storing materials in less-than-ideal ways. Inspectors can assess fines of up to $15,625 per violation.
Serious violations are those posing an immediate and significant risk of worker death or injury that the employer should have recognized and addressed. This can include issues such as failing to require worker compliance with personal protective equipment (PPE) rules. Penalties can go as high as $15,625 per violation.
If the inspector identifies a violation for which the employer has previously been cited in the last three years—even if it occurs in another location—the fine can be as high as $156,259. If the original citation is under appeal, the repeated violation fine won’t apply.
What best defines willful violations are those situations in which an employer is clearly aware of the danger to workers yet refuses to take protective actions. Whether that failure is intentional or represents simple carelessness, the employer faces fines of up to $156,259 per violation. If the violation results in a worker’s death, the fines can be substantially higher and the employer may face jail time.
In addition to those categories, employers failing to follow proper OSHA procedures can face other financial penalties:
Failure to Correct Violation
If the employer does not abate the violation within the specified period, they may be fined up to $15,625 daily.
Posting Requirement Violation
Similarly, an employer that fails to properly post the citation may face fines of up to $15,625 daily.
What Are the Top 10 OSHA Cited Standards?
OSHA violations in the workplace cover a wide range of issues, but certain violations tend to occur most often. The agency regularly publishes a list of the 10 most common violations so employers and workers can take steps to prevent them. The 2022 OSHA violations list across all industries includes:
OSHA Citations After an Inspection: What Must an Employer Do?
When the employer receives an OSHA citation, they must post a copy of it near where the violation occurred so employees are aware of the potential hazards. That posting must remain for at least three working days or until the employer abates the hazard, whichever is longer. Please note that some states have notice requirements and other procedures that differ from OSHA’s rules.
What Is Included in an OSHA Citation?
OSHA violations in the workplace that are referenced in citations spell out the violations that were observed, exactly where they occurred, the date by which the employer must abate the violation and the proposed penalty amount.
What Are the Options for Addressing OSHA Violations?
When an employer is issued a citation after an inspection, they have a time frame in which to correct the cited violations. This period, called the abatement process, applies only to employers that have received a citation from OSHA arising from an inspection in states that follow federal OSHA standards. If your state has its own OSHA-approved state plan, check with the state agency responsible for workplace safety for specific information on the abatement process.
Companies cited for OSHA violations in the workplace may simply pay the fine and correct the identified hazards. If there are circumstances in which the hazards cannot be mitigated by the abatement date, the employer must file a Petition of Modification of Abatement. Employers may also request an informal hearing with the OSHA area director. If the employer wishes to contest the violations, abatement deadline or the amount of OSHA fines, they can file a Notice to Contest to request a formal hearing.
What Are the Steps for Abating an OSHA Violation?
Failing to make the necessary corrections by the required date or provide the necessary documentation could result in significant penalties. That’s why it’s important for companies to:
- Notify employees of the hazard.
- Correct the hazard.
- Provide certification that the hazard has been corrected.
- Provide proper documentation to OSHA.
For example, if the citation involves moveable equipment, apply warning tags and remove the equipment from service through your company’s lockout/tagout process until the hazard has been abated. If the equipment is permanently removed from service, the citation may be removed.
Learn more about the OSHA violation abatement process here.
Turn to Hylant’s Construction Team
Hylant’s dedicated construction team works with contractors, construction companies, CMs, and project owners to address all aspects of construction risk. We can show you practical and effective ways to strengthen your loss control program to protect your people and bottom line. Contact Hylant to get started.
Related Reading: 9 Ways to Improve Construction Site Safety
Related Reading: Trenching and Excavation Safety
The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your insurance broker or trusted advisor for insurance-related questions.
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