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OSHA’s Top 10 Most Cited Standards–And How to Avoid Them

Understanding these commonly cited standards helps reduce risk and increase safety on the jobsite.

Jobsite Safety
Reducing Risk

No matter which way you slice it, construction is one of the most dangerous fields for workers. In addition to workplace injury and illness rates being 24% higher than any other industry,  approximately 20% of work-related fatalities occur on construction sites. 

Given the inherent risk of this labor-intensive industry, it only makes sense that we should do everything we can to mitigate these costly–and, far too often, tragic–accidents. Mitigation efforts today include everything from improved worker training and protective gear to stricter safety requirements–which are often accompanied by costlier fines for noncompliance. 

That’s where the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) comes in. Established in 1970 under the Nixon administration, OSHA is a large regulatory agency that sits within the United States Department of Labor. 

OSHA's mission is to "assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance". Their standards are typically enforced with unannounced on-site inspections, as well as measures to support and encourage whistleblowers. 

Due to construction’s status as a “high hazard” industry, OSHA has issued more detailed guidance and standards to specifically address issues of safety in the field. This includes standards around Electrical Installation (2007), Vertical Tandem Lifts (2008), Cranes and Derricks (2010), and a more recent update to Walking-Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Standards (2016).

As a stakeholder who wants to improve safety, minimize accidents, and avoid costly fines, you’re probably eager to understand which of these standards and regulations are most commonly cited by OSHA, so you can take care to ensure your own site is not left vulnerable.

Below, we’ve outlined 10 of the most commonly cited standards enforced by OSHA in the construction industry. Understanding these standards, and how to adequately maintain your site and train your workers to meet them, could save you countless dollars in the long run.

1.Fall Protection, Construction
29 CFR 1926.501

This standard, added in 2016, specifies where fall protection is required, as well as the proper installation of safety systems to prevent falls, on construction sites.

It makes sense that this is OSHA’s most frequently cited standard in the industry, as falls have long been the top cause of worker injuries and fatalities within the construction field. According to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), falls account for one-third of all on-the-job deaths in the industry. In 2019 alone, there were more than 400 fall-related fatalities (out of 1,102 total fatalities) in construction.

To protect your workers from fall-related accidents, injuries, and fatalities, employers are required to ensure the structural integrity of work surfaces. Additionally, employers are required to install protective guardrail, safety net, or personal fall arrest systems for any employees constructing a leading edge 6 feet (or higher) above lower levels. After ensuring that you have these safety systems installed correctly in the required areas, set up an internal review process to regularly ensure these safety systems remain intact and up to standard at all times.

2. Hazard Communication, General Industry
29 CFR 1910.1200 

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires employers to develop and distribute  information to their employees regarding the hazards associated with chemicals that may be used in the workplace. This is often in the form of labels and safety data sheets (SDS), as well as training provided to employees to ensure they thoroughly understand the risks of exposure to hazardous chemicals.

To ensure your site remains in compliance, establish multiple venues for communicating this pertinent information to your workers. In addition to using the correct labels and maintaining up-to-date safety data sheets, make sure to proactively communicate these hazards to your workers during the onboarding and training process, as well as issuing reminders on a regular basis. If possible, we’d recommend providing the information to your workers in a written format to supplement your verbal communications.

3. Scaffolds, Construction
29 CFR 1926.451

Scaffolds are one of the most recognizable tools used in the industry, especially when it comes to multi-floor projects and high rises. Regardless of this ubiquity, the presence of scaffolding inherently increases the risk of falls and injuries occurring on a site. These risks are magnified when scaffolding is improperly installed or cared for.

This OSHA standard outlines extensive requirements for implementing, utilizing, and maintaining scaffolds. Meeting this standard starts by leaving the work of erecting and moving scaffolds only to designated workers who are well trained in the proper processes. But to remain in compliance, it is important for the scaffolds on your site to be checked on a daily basis. In both cases, this work should be delegated only to supervisors who have the requisite experience and expertise.

4. Respiratory Protection, General Industry
29 CFR 1910.134

This standard outlines measures employers should take to prevent occupational diseases caused by atmospheric contamination, which can include everything from toxic dusts, fogs, and fumes, to gasses, smokes, and sprays. As you know, there is no shortage of these potential contaminants on a typical jobsite. From sawdust and other particulates, to adhesives and paints, nearly every employee on a site is bound to come into contact with a substance that could harm them if not handled appropriately.

To keep your workers safe, and to avoid being cited for this standard, ensure that your workers are adequately trained in the best practices for handling these materials, as well as the proper procedures for the work that utilizes them. You’ll also want to ensure that you maintain an ample supply of the proper safety gear and personal protective equipment to ensure your workers have them when they need them. 

5. Lockout/Tagout, General Industry
29 CFR 1910.147

This standard pertains to the control of hazardous energy. ​​It requires employers to establish a program and procedures for implementing the necessary lockout or tagout devices to energy isolating devices, which can include circuit breakers, manually operated disconnect switches,  line valves, or blocks. Additionally, it calls on employers to otherwise disable machines or equipment to prevent unexpected energization, start-up, or release of stored energy, which could potentially injure employees.

For the most part, companies that were cited for this standard: 

  • were improperly training employees on lockout/tagout procedures; 
  • did not have a lockout/tagout procedure in place; 
  • or neglected to conduct periodic inspections of existing procedures.

Comprehensive training, clear and thorough documentation of established procedures, and regular inspections are equally important aspects of an employer’s strategy to protect themselves from lockout/tagout citations. 

6. Powered Industrial Trucks, General Industry
29 CFR 1910.178 

This standard outlines safety requirements regarding the fire protection, design, maintenance, and use of forklifts, tractors, platform lift trucks, motorized hand trucks, and other specialized industrial trucks powered by electric motors or internal combustion engines. It includes guidance around the following topics:

  • Operation & training
  • Employers are responsible for ensuring that each Powered Industrial Truck (PIT) operator has completed the requisite training, which includes ​​formal instruction, practical training, and an evaluation of the operator's performance 
  • Employers are also responsible for ensuring that PIT operators go through required refresher training every three years, or sooner under some circumstances, including if the operator has been involved in an accident or is observed improperly operating their equipment.
  • Pre-inspections
  • OSHA requires that all forklifts be examined on a daily basis at minimum. Forklifts that are in operation on a round-the-clock basis are to be examined after each shift. To satisfactorily complete this inspection, the operator should conduct a visual check with the key off, followed by an operational check with the engine running. Obviously, if the examinations show that the vehicle may not be safe to operate, the employee should escalate the issue, ensuring the equipment is not utilized until the issue has been resolved or repaired.
  • Best practices for safe travel
  • Operators should be on alert for potential hazards, including overturning the forklift, falling loads, being struck or crushed by the forklift, collisions, and more. They should drive defensively, taking proactive measures to avoid potential hazards and accidents. This includes but is not limited to:
  • Looking in all directions before proceeding 
  • Observing all traffic regulations, including speed limits. 
  • Maintaining a safe distance 
  • Keeping the truck under control at all times.  
  • Separating the forklift and pedestrian traffic as much as possible  
  • Never driving up to a person who is in front of a fixed object
  • Load handling
  • Operators should take proper precautions to ensure safe handling of their loads. This includes being aware of the capacity of the equipment, and taking care not to exceed it. Additionally, operators should secure and safely arrange their loads for optimal stability, centering them with the heaviest part of the load closer to the front wheels. Operators should also take care to avoid:  
  • Off-center loads 
  • Overloading (which could cause tip-overs or falling loads) 
  • Damaged or loose loads 
  • Fork position
  • Operators should level the forks before inserting them into a pallet. The forks must be placed as far under the load as possible, centering the weight of the load between the forks. Take time to adjust the forks as needed to ensure the weight of the load has been distributed evenly. When tilting the mast back, go slowly and carefully to stabilize the load.

7. Ladders, Construction
29 CFR 1926.1053

Citations in this category are most frequently associated with the improper utilization of portable ladders in construction, most often due to improper training. According to a CDC report published in 2014, ladders are involved in approximately 20% of all fall-related accidents on jobsites.

As with other standards on this list, the best way employers can protect themselves is through clear, comprehensive, and well-communicated training.

Workers should know to:

  • Always inspect ladders and the area of use before use, looking for hazards or damage
  • Read the label to ensure it is right ladder for the task at hand 
  • In cases where the label is missing, tag the ladder “Out of Use” until the manufacturer is able to send replacements 
  • Check overhead for dangers (this could include everything from electrical lines to sharp objects)
  • Check to ensure that the footing is level, stable, and secure
  • When using a straight or extension ladder, be sure that the object you are leaning it against is stable and capable of supporting the force of both the ladder and the user leaning against it
  • Extension ladders should be placed one foot away from the object for every four feet of ladder height
  • When possible, tie off the top and bottom of the ladder

8. Machine Guarding, General Industry
29 CFR 1910.212

Severe injuries such as crushed fingers, amputated limbs, and severe burns are every worker’s – and employer’s – worst nightmare. What do they all have in common? They’re most often caused by moving machine parts. 

This is why this standard, established in 1978, outlines required safeguards and safety training designed to eliminate these hazards. Under this regulation, one or more methods of machine guarding are required to protect the operator of the machine, as well as any other employees in the machine area, from hazards created by point of operation, ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips and sparks. Safeguards are typically categorized either as “guards,” which are barriers to the machine, or “devices,” which can perform a variety of functions to protect workers from injury. Some examples of guarding methods include–but are not limited to–barrier guards, two-hand tripping devices, electronic safety devices, among others.

In any case, these machine safeguards should:

  • Prevent any part of a worker’s body from making contact with dangerous moving parts.
  • Be durable and secure enough to withstand or prevent removal or tampering.
  • Ensure protection from falling objects that could fall into moving parts. 
  • Not cause or create new hazards, or interfere with a worker’s ability to perform their job efficiently. Unfinished surfaces and sharp edges on safeguards create additional risks to the workers operating the machines they were meant to provide protections from. On the opposite side of the coin, safeguards that create more work or decrease efficiency are more likely to be ignored, decreasing adherence and increasing the likelihood of an accident.
  • Whenever possible, machines should be able to be lubricated without removing the safeguard. This will reduce instances of operators or other workers entering the dangerous area.

9. Electrical Wiring, General Industry
29 CFR 1910.305 

Citations for this standard are commonly issued for unsafe substitutes to permanent wiring and/or the improper use of extension cords. According to OSHA, more than 300 electrical-related fatalities occur each year. 

This standard aims to reduce this tragic loss of life by outlining rules and best practices for using flexible wires or cables, such as extension cords, which are only permitted for temporary use on job sites. More specifically, it says that flexible cords and cables may not be used: 

  • As a substitute for the fixed wiring of a structure
  • Where run through holes in walls, ceilings or floors
  • Where run through doorways, windows, or similar openings
  • Where attached to building surfaces, or
  • Where concealed behind building walls, ceilings, or floors

In addition to making these requirements known to all workers, employers should conduct regular inspections to ensure flexible cords and cables are not being used improperly on their sites. 

10. Electrical, General Requirements, General Industry
29 CFR 1910.303

Similar to the above standard around flexible cables and cords, this standard addresses requirements around the correct installation and utilization of electrical equipment, as well as the working space around that equipment. 

The standard states that all electrical equipment is to be used or installed in accordance with any instructions included in the original listing or labeling. Common violations include consumer rated coffee makers and box fans being used in commercial or industrial work environments. This is because consumer rated products are normally not grounded, which means they are not fit for continuous operation. 

While this may seem petty on the surface, this hazard is quite serious, and this very issue has been the root cause of numerous fires. Similarly, the standard forbids using electrical receptacles designed for indoor use in outdoor environments.

Additionally, this standard outlines requirements around unguarded energized conductors, which pose a serious electrocution hazard. The standard states that all energized conductors greater than 50 volts within eight feet of the floor or working surface must be guarded against accidental contact. Exposed wiring and unguarded fluorescent lighting are commonly cited as violations.

How can Odin help me avoid being cited for these common standards?

Odin’s mission is: to leverage the power of data and technology to radically improve safety in the construction industry. 

Our powerful risk management platform helps automate safety on construction projects by ensuring that only qualified, credentialed, and approved workers are allowed on site. We use the data generated on the jobsite to find meaningful insights that can then be leveraged to reduce risk, mitigate accidents, and ultimately lower costs and insurance premiums.We’d love to tell you more about how Odin could help make your job site safer and smarter. Request a demo below to get started.

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