What Are the Top Workplace Safety Issues?

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Every job comes with its own inherent risks, with some professions being more hazardous than others. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) tracks workplace hazards, accidents, and violations at job sites across the United States. They recently released their list of the most commonly reported workplace safety issues during the past fiscal year.

Whether you spend most of your workday sitting in an office cubicle or on a construction site several stories above the ground, you should be familiar with common job hazards and steps you can take to avoid them.

Most Common Safety Violations

Here are the top 10 workplace safety violations in 2021 according to OSHA:

Fall protection. OSHA requires that fall protection be provided at elevations of four feet in general industry, and at higher elevations in shipyards, construction, and some other industries. For the 11th year in a row, fall protection was the most common safety issue reported at workplaces across the country: 5,271 violations in total.

Violations were largely issued to housing construction contractors and framing and roofing contractors. Most violations occurred for missing fall protection near unprotected sides and/or edges, near sloped surfaces, and near steep roofs.

Respiratory protection. Millions of workers are required to wear respirators to protect against exposure to harmful vapors, dust, and sprays and to protect them in environments where there is limited oxygen. Without respiratory protection, workers may be at risk of developing cancer and other diseases.

In 2021, respiratory protection citations totaled 2,521. Violations were primarily issued to auto body refinishing companies, painting and wall covering contractors, and masonry contractors.

Ladders. There are clear and detailed standards for how and when ladders are to be used in different types of work environments, per OSHA. Used incorrectly, ladders are more hazardous than helpful. The 2,018 OSHA ladder violations included the improper use of ladders; structurally deficient ladders; and workers using the top step of a stepladder, which is a serious fall risk.

Scaffolds. A scaffold is a temporary elevated work surface used to support workers and/or materials. Scaffolding should be rigid and sound and erected and dismantled only by trained professionals, among other safety requirements.

OSHA standards for safe scaffolding vary from industry to industry. Most violations occurred in roofing, siding, masonry, and framing. There were 1,943 violations in total, including missing guardrails and failure to provide a solid foundation.

Hazard communication. Hazard communication refers to transparency regarding the use of chemicals in the workplace. Chemical importers and manufacturers must provide labels and safety sheets to relay hazard information to consumers. Employers must provide safety information and training for any workers exposed to these chemicals.

Hazard communication was the fifth most reported OSHA violation of 2021. Painting contractors and auto repair facilities racked up the majority of the 1,939 violations in 2021.

Lockout/tagout issues. Lockout/tagout violations are next on OSHA’s list of the 10 most common safety violations, with 1,670 for 2021. Lockout/tagout practices and procedures are used to control unexpected or unintended release of hazardous energy when equipment and machinery are not in use or being serviced.

Energy sources include electrical, mechanical, chemical, thermal, pneumatic, and hydraulic. Sawmills, machine shops, and plastics manufacturers had the majority of 1,660 violations recorded last year.

Fall protection training requirements. There is a distinction between fall protection violations and fall protection training violations. Fall protection equipment is essentially useless if employees are not sufficiently trained to identify fall risks and utilize the proper protective equipment as intended.

OSHA requires that fall protection training be certified in writing. In 2021, there were 1,660 fall protection training requirement violations for employers in which workers were unable to retain safety information, were not retrained on missing training, or just did not receive proper fall protection training at all.

Eye and face protection. Employers must ensure workers use appropriate eye and face protection during exposure to airborne particles, liquid chemicals, chemical vapors or gases, acids and other caustic liquids, molten metal, and light radiation.

There were 1,451 eye and face protection safety violations in OSHA’s recent report. Most violations involved the failure to use appropriate protective equipment and a lack of side protection.

Powered industrial trucks. Powered industrial trucks are used in a wide range of industries to transport materials from one location to another or raise and lower goods. The use of powered industrial trucks such as motorized hand trucks and forklifts resulted in 1,494 safety violations.

When industrial trucks are not safely used, stored, or maintained, they pose a serious risk to nearby workers. In 2021, there were 1,404 violations, primarily for failure to operate safely, lack of refresher training, and failure to examine equipment for adverse conditions. Most violations occurred in warehouses, storage facilities, metal manufacturers, and framing contractors.

Machine guarding. Last on the list of the top 10 safety violations is machine guarding. OSHA machine guarding standards exist to protect operators from personal injury caused by flying sparks and chips, rotating parts, and other hazards.

There are several types of machine guards available, depending on the size and type of machinery used. Of the 1,105 reported violations, most were for the wrong type of guard, improperly anchored machinery, and lack of secure attachment of guards to machinery.

What Happens after an OSHA Safety Violation?

OSHA inspects workplaces in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. If the compliance safety and health officer (CSHO) identifies conditions in violation of this act, they issue a Notice of Unsafe or Unhealthful Working Conditions.

The employer must then:

  • Post the Notice, or a copy of it, near the location where the violation occurred
  • Correct or abate the condition before the deadline set in the Notice, and/or
  • Request an informal conference within 15 days to discuss the violation and the date set for abatement

Employer Compliance

Once the employer has corrected the conditions in violation, they must notify the OSHA Area Director by letter. The letter should confirm the employer took the appropriate steps to correct the safety violation within the required timeframe.

In some cases, OSHA will allow more time to abate the safety issue. However, during this time, employees must be protected from known hazards. The employer must provide OSHA with periodic progress reports on their efforts to correct unsafe conditions.

OSHA has the right to conduct a follow-up inspection to ensure the employer has posted the OSHA Notice, corrected the violations, and protected employees. At this time, the inspector will look for new or unabated violations.

If I Got Hurt at Work, Am I Entitled to Workers’ Compensation?

If you got hurt at work, you may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits under Maryland employment law. These benefits can help cover medical bills and lost wages throughout your recovery.

It is important to note that your employer cannot take any adverse employment action against you because you got hurt, reported a workplace injury, or contacted OSHA about unsafe work conditions. Federal employees, specifically, are protected from retaliation under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. Private industry employees and those who work for nonprofits are also protected from retaliation.

Dealing with a painful work injury while facing mounting doctor bills can feel overwhelming, but help is available. To file a new claim or appeal a denied claim, contact a trusted Workers’ Compensation lawyer for guidance.


Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton, Fight for Injured Workers’ Rights

The Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton firmly believe in your right to benefits if you get hurt on the job. From the time of your accident until the time your claim is approved, and every step along the way, we compile the vital evidence to build a compelling claim for compensation. We handle the details so you can focus on healing. Call us at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.