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What are they? And what do you need to know and do to steer clear of a citation.

Christina Roll, AXA XL


Casualty Risk Consultant - Workers Safety, AXA XL

In October 2021, OSHA presented it’s annual “Top 10” most cited violations for FY 2021 (Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2021) at the National Safety Council Safety Congress & Expo. This is a list of standards that OSHA compliance officers issue citations for most often when conducting inspections of general industry facilities or construction job sites. It can provide insights as to what items OSHA considers more important than others, and what areas of your safety program or overall operations you may want to focus your hazard mitigation efforts in.

If you’re familiar with “OSHA’s Top 10”, you won’t see many changes from previous years’ lists. In fact, the FY 2021 list has the same standards as the FY 2020 list but in a slightly different order. Fall protection in the construction industry still remains the top violations.

While five of the OSHA Top 10 standards are specific to the Construction Industry, the other five are considered General Industry Standards. OSHA uses the term "General Industry" to refer to all industries not included in Agriculture, Construction or Maritime. Auto manufacturers, Hotels & Restaurants, Hospitals, and so many other businesses fall under OSHA’s General Industry standards.

In this article, I’ll take a look at the General Industry standards from the list, provide some insights as to why they were cited, and share tips on what businesses can do to prevent a citation should OSHA show up at your door.

It’s important to note that the standards and citation data referenced here are the national standards set by Federal OSHA and the data issued by Federal OSHA compliance officers. If you live or operate a business in one of the 22 states that have a state-operated workplace safety & health program, be sure to check with that organization and comply with their standards for your facility.

1. Respiratory Protection
The most frequently cited General Industry OSHA standard is the Respiratory Protection standard, 1910.134. If any of your employees wear a respirator for any reason, this standard applies to you. Reading through it you’ll find requirements for a respiratory protection program such as proper selection, fit testing your employees, what training is needed, and medical evaluations.

Why were companies cited? OSHA compliance officers cited companies 2,521 times for not complying with this standard. The primary reasons were medical evaluations for employees; fit testing for employees wearing tight-fitting facepiece respirators; written respiratory protection programs; and training employees.

What are the key things you need to do? The key to respiratory protection is proper fit and use. If your employees are wearing respirators, having a medical evaluation that says they are physically able to safely use a respirator, making sure the respirator fits properly, and ensuring they know how to properly use it are the most important things you can do. The standard includes appendices with sample medical evaluation forms, details on how to properly fit employees with a respirator, and a list of items employees must be trained on so they use the respirator the right way. And don’t forget about employees who are not required to wear a respirator but choose to use it for their personal comfort/piece of mind. The standard gives specific requirements for these employees as well that you have to comply with.

2. Hazard Communication
The next standard OSHA compliance officers cite most frequently is Hazard Communication, 1910.1200. This standard is where you’ll find requirements for all your chemical hazards. OSHA has said your employees have “the right to know, and the right to understand” the workplace hazards associated with chemicals, and this standard outlines what you need to do to ensure that happens.

Why were companies cited? 1,939 citations were given to companies in FY 2021 around Hazard Communication. The main topics of those citations were written programs, employee training, Safety Data Sheets (SDS), and container labels.

What are the key things you need to do? The Hazard Communication standard is probably one of the most cited because there are so many parts to it. Remember to focus on these key items to keep your company compliant and your employees safe: (1) maintain a SDS for every chemical your employees may come into contact with, and store them where every employee can access them at any time; (2) ensure every chemical container has a label that is clearly readable and includes the items outlined in the standard; (3) train your employees on chemical hazards in their specific workplace (which should include how to read a SDS and what container labels should like and include); and (4) have a formal program documenting how you’re doing all the above, as well as meeting the requirements for written programs in the standard.

3. Lockout/Tagout
Lockout/Tagout (LOTO), 1910.147, is up next on the list of most cited standards. If you have machinery that requires more than one type of energy to operate and needs regular maintenance, this standard applies to you. And even if you don’t have an internal maintenance team and hire vendors to perform that work, this standard would still apply because it’s your equipment and your employees who work with or around the equipment. The safe shutdown and start-up of equipment is critical for employees to understand, and this standard outlines the requirements on how to do that.

Why were companies cited? There were 1,670 violations of this standard last fiscal year. Those citations were around LOTO procedures, employee training, inspections of those procedures, and written programs.

What are the key things you need to do? While this is not the most cited standard, when you read through OSHA’s fatality reports, more often than not, you’ll find the requirements of this standard were not followed or implemented. The biggest ticket item for LOTO is having a specific, written procedure for how to lockout and/or tagout each piece of equipment in your facility. These can’t be generic. They need to be detailed about where the power sources are, how they are individually isolated, what to do to verify that isolation, and then how to bring the equipment back online and operational. Once you have these procedures in place, the next most important item is to train ALL your employees – not just the maintenance staff performing the work, but the employees who work on the equipment and those who work around the equipment. The last thing to do with those procedures it to have an annual review or inspection of them to make sure the steps are still applicable, all steps are being followed, and no changes (or additional employee training) is required.

...while compliance with OSHA standards is very important, it should not be your end goal....A good safety program strives to exceed these standards and establish industry best practices for hazard elimination, mitigation, and control.

4. Powered Industrial Trucks
Next on the list of most frequently cited standards is Powered Industrial Trucks, 1910.178. This is rather self-explanatory: if you have any type of Powered Industrial Truck (PIT) in your facility – fork trucks, tractors, platform lift trucks, motorized hand trucks, and/or other specialized industrial trucks powered by electric motors or internal combustion engines – you should be complying with this standard. Not only does it cover safe operation and employee training, it also outlines design and maintenance requirements for all PITs.

Why were companies cited? OSHA compliance officers issued 1,404 violations of this standard to general industry facilities in FY 2021, and there were two primary reasons: safe use/operation (including training) and maintenance.

What are the key things you need to do? Training, Training, Training! Probably the most important thing about PITs is providing training on their safe operation. And the most important thing to remember about that training is that it includes 3 separate and distinct parts: formal instruction (classroom training, computer-based courses, videos, etc. with an evaluation to assess knowledge), hands-on training (demonstrations performed by the trainer and exercises performed by the employee in a safe/training environment), and an evaluation of the employee performing typical operations in the work environment he/she would typically be operating the PIT in (carrying a load through the warehouse, loading materials into a trailer, etc.). Citations are given when all 3 parts are not clearly identified in the training plan, so don’t combine parts 2 and 3, or skip a part altogether. The other key item of PIT training is that employees must be trained on each specific type of PIT they use. Training an employee on operating a forklift does not mean he/she should also be allowed to operate a lift truck or hand truck. Each type of PIT operates differently with different controls and limitations, so a full training session with all 3 parts mentioned above should be complete for each type of PIT operated. Once employees are trained on operations of the PIT, ensure they know how to inspect them before each use, and how to document that inspection.

5. Machine Guarding
The last General Industry standard on OSHA’s most cited list is Machine Guarding, 1910.212. As the name suggests, this standard should be complied with when machinery is used and could create hazards for operators and other employees from ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips or sparks, and the point of operation. Employees must be protected by some type of guard, and this standard outlines general requirements for those guards.

Why were companies cited? Companies were cited 1,105 times for violating or not complying with this standard. Reasons for these citations involved the types of guards used, placement of guards, guarding of fan blades, and securing machinery that should be used in a fixed location.

What are the key things you need to do? Almost every machine used in a workplace will require a guard of some kind. Guards could be as simple as a piece of plastic placed between employee and machine, or as complex as door interlocks. When you receive a new piece of equipment, or your maintenance staff completes a full maintenance check of current equipment, conduct a thorough inspection before it’s turned on to look for any point where employees may be injured during operations and ensure there is a guard of some type in place. Remember that not all equipment comes with the guards it’s supposed to have when you purchase it – some manufacturers sell the guards separately, and if you didn’t purchase it there could be an exposed hazard you don’t think exists. Also note that there are separate standards for specific types of machines with specific requirements for the guards they need, so be sure to reference the correct standard for your operations.

Strive to exceed safety standards
A few other things to remember when it comes to OSHA compliance. One, you probably noticed that written programs were a reason for citations in each of the standards referenced. Remember that your company’s written program needs to be specific to your operations – don’t just copy and paste the standard onto your letterhead and call it a day. You need to clearly state what your company is doing to comply with the standard, and then have the proof that you’re complying with your own program. Even if you’re in compliance with their standard, if OSHA reviews your program and can’t find proof you’re in compliance with it, they could still cite you.

Second, documentation is critical. If you can’t show it was done, OSHA will assume it wasn’t done, and you will be cited. This rings true for employee training and of course your formal programs and all the procedures they contain.

Finally, and probably the most important thing I want you to remember from this article, is that while compliance with OSHA standards is very important, it should not be your end goal or the entire purpose of your safety program. These standards give the bare minimum requirements on how to keep your employees safe from workplace hazards. A good safety program strives to exceed these standards and establish industry best practices for hazard elimination, mitigation, and control.

If you find yourself in need of assistance, you can find several resources on OSHA’s website or through an internet search. You should also consider reaching out to your insurance loss control/risk control contact for free resources and ideas.

About the author
Christina Roll is the Workers Safety Casualty Risk Consultant for the Americas. With nearly two decades of experience in hazard identification, evaluation, mitigation and control; office and industrial ergonomic training and assessments; industrial hygiene assessments; OSHA compliance; safety and occupational health training; and workplace risk assessments, Christina helps AXA XL clients address their workers exposures.

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