Written by: Joe Mangiardi, NES, Inc.
OSHA’s top 10 list of citations for 2017 has been released, with one newcomer joining the group this past year.
OSHA’s Top 10 List: Repeating the Past
Federal OSHA’s top 10 list of frequently cited violations for fiscal year 2017 was released in September at the annual National Safety Council (NSC) Congress & Expo in Indianapolis, and much is unchanged as compared to the 2016 numbers. In fact, the top five violations on the list have remained unchanged—and in the same order—since 2014, with the top four ranging back even further.
Here is an infographic from NSC’s Safety + Health magazine displaying the categories of violations and their associated number of citations for OSHA’s top 10 list for 2017:
(Infographic source: Safety + Health Magazine Article OSHA’s Top 10 Most-Cited Violations for Fiscal Year 2017.)
Though the top offenders for 2017 were primarily the same categories as in years past, it should be noted that the number of violations decreased slightly for every one of the categories that appeared on the 2016 list (accounting for all but one, to be discussed in the next section), so at least there have been some improvements in these problem areas. With greater emphasis by employers on establishing and maintaining company safety and health programs and on providing regular, relevant (job-specific) training to employees, we can see these citation numbers continue to decrease.
Note: the above list refers to Federal OSHA regulations and statistics. For more information on Cal/OSHA citations, see the August 17, 2017 NES article Cal/OSHA Citations Trending Upward.
Fall Protection Training Debuts on OSHA’s Top 10 List
While Fall Protection – General Requirements (29 CFR 1926.501) has consistently headed up the list for many years, the complementary Fall Protection – Training Requirements was a new addition to OSHA’s top 10 list, ranking as the ninth most often cited violation of 2017. Indeed, the element most responsible for violations is a lack of training, according to Patrick Kapust, deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, as reported in the Safety + Health Magazine article OSHA’s Top 10 Most-Cited Violations for Fiscal Year 2017. Kapust stated, “If you noticed in the Top 10, many of these standards have training requirements associated with them . . . Important questions to ask are, ‘What’s happening with my training programs? Are they covering what they should?’ Hazard Communication, Respiratory Protection, Lockout/Tagout, Powered Industrial Trucks – all of those require specific training programs. Look at your programs in these areas, because many of the deficiencies we find involve training.”
Kapust went on to reference the success of the Fall Prevention Safety Stand-Down campaign, which is estimated to have reach approximately five million workers since its inception. This and updated regulations regarding fall protection have likely contributed to increased scrutiny on the part of inspectors, which is a logical driving force behind the uptick in citations for failure to provide proper fall safety training.
Fall protection is number one on OSHA’s top 10 list yet again, but this time the list also includes the training component of fall protection.
For more information on this subject, see the following NES articles: Fall Safety Protection Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction (April 28, 2017) and OSHA Final Rule: Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems (April 11, 2017).
Major Penalties on OSHA’s Top 10 List
When companies fail to follow regulations set in place to protect workers from harm in the workplace, employees are more likely to be injured or killed. If such an event occurs at your place of business, you can be sure to receive a visit from one or more OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs). Another 10-item list was assembled in the above referenced Safety + Health magazine article, this one describing some of the most serious (alleged) offenders from 2017. Here are some of those listed:
Failure to Properly Control Dangerous Energy (Lockout/Tagout)
The most highly penalized was an auto parts manufacturer in Alabama. The casualty of improper lockout/tagout procedures, a worker was fatally crushed while attempting to fix an issue on a robotic conveyor belt that stamps metal parts. Other infractions, such as improper machine guarding, led to a slew of willful violations totaling $2.6 million (pending potential litigation/settlement results).
Unfortified Trench Tragedy
At an operation in Boston two workers drowned when the trench they were working in collapsed, breaking a fire hydrant supply line and rapidly flooding the trench. This triggered an OSHA investigation that determined the trench had not been properly fortified. The employer had not provided basic safeguards to fortify the trench, nor had employees been given training on how to recognize and prevent this and other hazards associated with performing such work. Worse still, this tragedy should have been foreseen: the company had been issued citations for similar hazards at worksites in 2007 and 2012. The company now faces $1.5 million in penalties.
Fall Protection Violation
Shockingly, one of the largest aggregate citations went to a construction company in Florida during a planned inspection. An inspector observed employees working on a multistory residential building wearing harnesses that were not tied off to the rope grabs and roof anchors. OSHA immediately investigated another of the company’s worksites and found that this was a companywide problem. The company also wound up being cited for lack of fall protection measures in ladder use and for failing to ensure employees wore eye protection when operating nail guns. Total penalties amounted to $1.5 million and landed the company in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
OSHA violations like the ones listed above are often the products of willful negligence. Everyone benefits when employees are treated with the respect for safety and health that is built into the regulations.
Staying off OSHA’s Top 10 List: Preparing for an Inspection
Many businesses will be inspected, and while this may be a time for consternation—particularly when there are known offenses to be discovered—it is also an opportunity for employers and safety managers to learn how to better protect workers. EHSToday published an article entitled How to Prepare for – and Manage – an OSHA Inspection in which advice is provided for dealing with the infamous OSHA inspection.
The first step is to prepare. Identify all pertinent employee roles. Inform the employee(s) who will likely be greeting the inspector of the expected arrival. The individual(s) should know whom to contact when the inspector arrives. The designated company liaison should check the inspector’s ID and business card, ascertain the reason behind the inspection, and have the inspector (CSHO) wait while management is notified. It is not recommended that the CSHO be denied access, as this will only temporarily halt proceedings and will very likely negatively impact the inspection when it does take place.
When permission to inspect has been granted and the necessary company personnel have been assembled, the CSHO will conduct an opening conference to discuss why the inspection is happening along with various other legal and procedural details (request an opening conference if one is not initiated by the inspector). Be sure to retain any literature or documents provided by the CSHO, and take notes regarding the findings so that it will not be in dispute whether the company was informed during the site visit.
The inspector will typically request to view certain documents. It is considered best to only allow the CSHO access to the company safety and health program during the inspection; other records can be sent to the CSHO after approved by upper management—do not volunteer or otherwise allow the CSHO to review any safety inspection reports made by the company’s safety department, insurance carrier, external consultants, subcontractors, etc., unless those reports are required by OSHA.
During the walk-through portion of the visit, never leave the inspector unattended. Take notes and photographs along with the inspector, keeping in mind that the inspector is a guest at your facility (and not the other way around!). As with the above advice on documentation, do not volunteer any information along the way. Another tip is to keep employees to their regular tasks—do not allow them to demonstrate any operations, and do not order them to remedy anything that may need fixing, as this will not negate any citation and may alert the CSHO to an issue that would otherwise have been overlooked.
Make sure that everything the inspector has observed, commented on, and documented is understood so that there is no confusion later. If you are interviewed, tell the truth, do not speculate, and—again—do not volunteer information not explicitly requested! OSHA can interview employees privately, but managers can always have other managers, owners, etc. present, so know your rights.
During the walk-through and throughout the inspection process, the CSHO will be taking notes—be sure to take notes along with him/her.
A closing conference will follow the inspection, allowing the opportunity to fully clarify everything that has been taken into consideration by the inspector. If it is the case that the CSHO has found any violations, determine why these are being considered as such. Inform the CSHO that you are noting every potential violation to avoid any discrepancies at a later conference or hearing. Request that the inspector help you to cross-check your notes. If there is nothing else to be noted, tell the CSHO that you are noting there was nothing further to include in the findings.
OSHA inspections are often sources of trepidation, but if you and your facility are prepared, they don’t have to be.
OSHA’s Top 10 List: The Bottom Line
When it comes to staying off of OSHA’s top 10 list and out of trouble in any of the other, still significant categories, the bottom line is to be informed of all required safety measures and to dispense the information to employees through regular training conducted by qualified training providers, whether internal to the company or hired externally.
NES can help your business or agency with its training or consulting needs to help prepare for inspections and to remain in compliance with applicable rules and regulations (view our open enrollment training page by clicking here). For more information about our environmental health & safety training and consulting capabilities, contact NES at 916-353-2360 / 1.800.NES.ADVISE (1.800.637.2384) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
OSHA Fall Protection Standard (29 CFR 1926.501)
Safety + Health Magazine Article: OSHA’s Top 10 Most-Cited Violations for Fiscal Year 2017
VelocityEHS Article: OSHA’s Top 10 Most Cited Violations of 2017
NSC Article: OSHA’s Top 10 Violations for 2017 Revealed at NSC Congress & Expo
Safety.BLR.com Article: Breaking: OSHA Announces Top 10 Violations for FY 2017
EHS Today Article: How to Prepare for – and Manage – an OSHA Inspection
Society for Human Resource Management Article: Top 10 OSHA Violations for 2017
IMPO Article: Here are OSHA’s Top 10 Most Cited Workplace Violations of 2017