The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created by Congress “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” OSHA covers most private sector employers and their workers as well as some public ones. Among other things, employees have the right to working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm, and employers are obligated to locate and fix safety and health hazards. When employers fail to do so, they can be held responsible for resulting injuries and fatalities. Depending on the circumstances, there may be grounds for a legal cause of action.
Most injuries and deaths in the workplace are preventable, as evidenced from the list of standards most frequently cited by OSHA inspectors as being violated. For the 2015 fiscal year (October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015), the ten standards most often cited were:
- Fall protection. Specific to the construction industry, this standard defines where fall protection is necessary, what safety systems are required, and what supervision is necessary to prevent falls. There were 7,402 violations of this standard in 2015, just slightly less than the 7,516 violations that also made it the No. 1 cited standard in 2014.
- Hazard communication. Coming in at No. 2 in 2015, as it did in 2014, were violations relating to hazard communication. There were 5,681 citations issued in 2015 for violating this standard, which deals with chemical hazards in the workplace.
- Scaffolding. Designed to protect construction workers from falls and falling objects while working at or near temporary work structures at heights of ten or more feet above the ground. Inspectors found that this standard was violated 4,681 times last year.
- Respiratory protection. This standard is intended to guide employers in establishing and maintaining programs to safeguard workers’ respiratory systems, chiefly concerning respirator use. For 2015, this standard was cited over 3,600 times.
- Lockout/Tagout. Bumped up from No. 6 in 2014, this standard addressing how to safely control hazardous energy during the maintaining and repairing of electrical equipment was violated 3,308 times in 2015.
- Powered industrial trucks. Concerning the design, maintenance, and operation of powered industrial trucks such as forklifts and hand trucks, this standard was cited for 3,004 violations in 2015 — 544 of those violations involved the employer’s failure to ensure the competency of the operators.
- Ladders. As with scaffolding and fall protection, this standard is specific to the construction industry. In 2015 there were 2,732 violations, more than half of which were violations of the basic requirement that ladder side rails extend at least three feet above an upper landing surface.
- Electrical wiring methods. Covering the grounding protocols for electrical wiring, equipment, and insulation, this standard was cited 2,624 times in 2015.
- Machine guarding. This standard deals with the safety measures that should be taken with certain hazardous machinery. In 2015, there were 2,540 violations.
- General electrical requirements. Working with electricity is dangerous, and this standard addresses general safety expectations for designing electrical systems. There were 2,181 citations issued in 2015 for violating this standard.