3 Simple Steps to Help You Avoid OSHA’s Top 3 Safety and Health Violations

Holly Denny

As we near the final quarter of 2022, there’s already much speculation among workers’ compensation stakeholders about which standards and requirements will make the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) annual list of top 10 violations for which citations were issued.1 For the most part, the highly anticipated release of each year’s list is met with a collective nod – thanks to its historic predictability – but there is often vertical movement within the list and, every once in a while, a few surprises. As we await findings from this year, which are likely to be made public in late spring 2023, the 2021 data can provide valuable insight into which violations may reappear on OSHA’s 2022 top 10 list. Perhaps more importantly, it can also help employers identify and implement strategies to keep their employees safer and healthier in the coming year and avoid the costly claims and hefty fines associated with OSHA violations.

Top OSHA Violations in 20212

  • Fall Protection - General Requirements (standard 1926.501)
  • Respiratory Protection (standard 1910.134)
  • Ladders (standard 1926.1053)

Fall protection violations have remained the most frequently cited OSHA violation for over a decade now.2 Not only do falls account for a great deal of employer spending in OSHA fines – over $29.5 million dollars in 2021 alone – but they often result in expensive claims, with an average fall injury claim cost coming in around $47,000.3 Even more concerning is that falls are currently listed as the second leading cause of workplace death, topped only by motor vehicle accidents (MVAs).4 A common misconception regarding work-related fall injuries is that they all occur from an elevated surface, like a ladder. In reality, over half of the fall injuries requiring employees to miss work in 2019 were slips, trips, or falls from the same level.5

Respiratory protection has been a consideration for many industries for over a century, yet the violation of OSHA’s respiratory protection guidelines continues to result in thousands of citations each year.6 Over the last few years in particular, respiratory protection violations have scaled the top 10 list from #5 in 2019, to #3 in 2020, to #2 in 2021.7 This noteworthy rise may be in part attributable to the surge in respirator use during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a shortage of equipment (including respirator fit testing supplies) that ultimately forced OSHA to temporarily loosen its respiratory protection guidelines.8 With more employees required to undergo respirator fit testing than ever before – and, perhaps, the disruption of standard practices – an increase in respiratory protection violations may not have been altogether unexpected. It remains to be seen whether respiratory protection citations issued in 2022 will finally fall to their pre-COVID levels.

Ladder violations are another usual suspect on OSHA’s annual list, though they too have climbed a few rungs in recent years, going from #6 in 2019, to #5 in 2020, and jumping to #3 in 2021.9 Over $5.8 million dollars’ worth of ladder-related citations were issued by OSHA last year, with the majority of violations involving portable ladder use in the construction industry.10 With the close tie between ladder violations and fall injuries, employers stand to lose millions in injury claims associated with improper ladder use.

The Three Keys to Avoiding Common OSHA Violations

It is widely accepted by occupational health and safety experts that a large number of work-related illnesses and injuries are preventable, and there are countless resources and recommendations to help employers foster and maintain a safe work environment.11 Adopting these best practices not only reduces the risk of work-related injury, but it can also increase regulatory compliance – meaning fewer violations and less money spent on citations and claims. When it comes to avoiding the top OSHA violations, follow these three simple steps:

  • Understand your risks

As the old saying goes, “Knowing is half the battle.” In occupational safety and health – and, more specifically, regulated industries – employers must have a clear understanding of what guidelines apply to their workplace/workforce and what hazards or risks could potentially lead to an OSHA violation or, worse, an injured employee. Conducting regular safety evaluations and equipment inspections is essential for determining potential risk factors and for maintaining compliance. In the construction industry, for example, many fall protection and ladder violations can be completely prevented by evaluating the jobsite and equipment, identifying risk factors, and providing appropriate mitigation measures, such as toe holds, guardrails, or hole covers.

  • Train and educate your employees

Fall protection, respiratory protection, and ladder guidelines all require some level of training and education. When respirator use is mandatory, for instance, all employees must be able to demonstrate a working knowledge of several aspects of the equipment, including why it’s necessary, how to properly wear and maintain the respirator, and others. Failure to demonstrate such knowledge – something that likely could have been prevented with more in-depth training and education – led to about 5 percent of respiratory protection citations issued in 2021.9 Having comprehensive written fall protection and respiratory protection programs is another OSHA requirement that is routinely overlooked by employers, resulting in further citations. Educating your employees on how to identify, report, and address potential hazards – like a wet ladder or an icy sidewalk – is another beneficial practice, helping to prevent violations and injuries alike.

Access a variety of educational resources and training materials on fall protection and ladder use.

  • Consult an expert

OSHA regulations can often seem complex and are constantly changing, making it a challenge for employers – even those with the best of intentions – to understand whether they are committing a violation. Partnering with an occupational health provider like Concentra®, whose clinicians and colleagues are highly knowledgeable about the most current OSHA rules and regulations – as well as best practices for workplace health and safety – can help employers boost compliance, reduce injury rates, and cut claims costs.

Workplace safety evaluations and ergonomic assessments conducted by Concentra help to identify potential hazards, preventing injuries and violations before they happen. Concentra’s onsite athletic trainers are able to monitor workplace safety in real time and correct potentially risky behaviors. With our professionally administered episodic services – such as respirator fit testing – employers can rest assured that required screenings are being performed properly and will not result in violation or citation.

For employers with a history of OSHA violation, Concentra is committed to helping those organizations improve their health and safety practices to prevent a subsequent incident. In the case of a work-related injury, our dedicated team of occupational health-trained clinicians provides comprehensive, end-to-end care that gets your employee back to work as quickly and safely as possible – with the knowledge and tools to avoid a repeat injury.

Don’t Fall Victim to OSHA Violations

OSHA citations can be expensive and inconvenient, but having an injured employee is a much more serious concern. With three fundamental practices – knowing your risks and requirements, training and educating your workforce, and partnering with Concentra, the nation’s premier occupational health provider – you can avoid OSHA fines while simultaneously protecting your employees from injury and illness. Learn more about how Concentra can help you maintain compliance and avoid unnecessary spending by contacting a Concentra representative today.

  1. Top Ten Most Frequently Cited Standards for Fiscal Year 2021. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
  2. OSHA Reveals Top 10 Safety Violations for Fiscal Year 2021 at NSC Safety Congress & Expo. National Safety Council. October 12, 2021.
  3. Workers’ Compensation Costs. National Safety Council. Accessed September 19, 2022.
  4. Facts + Statistics: Workplace Safety/Workers Comp. Insurance Information Institute. Accessed September 19, 2022.
  5. OSHA’s Fall Prevention Campaign. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
  6. 100 Years of Respiratory Protection. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Last reviewed July 31, 2019.
  7. Top 10 OSHA Violations: 2019,” by Grainger Editorial Staff. Grainger. September 12, 2019.
  8. Understanding Compliance with OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standard During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
  9. OSHA’s Top 10 most cited violations for FY 2021,” by Kevin Druley. Safety and Health Magazine. National Safety Council. November 28, 2021.
  10. Fatal injuries from ladders down in 2020; nonfatal ladder injuries were essentially unchanged. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. April 25, 2022.
  11. Incident Investigation. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.