Editor’s Notes: OSHA, the Killer Whale

OSHA’s Top Ten Violations… Now in Two Categories









Years ago, a college professor asked his students to identify common names and acronyms. One of the questions asked was, “What is OSHA?” Almost half of the students replied that OSHA was the killer whale at SeaWorld®. I’m not sure if this is an indictment of our educational system or a political comment on the size and ruthlessness of government bureaucracy. Either way, it’s an observation with which many contractors can identify. To set the record straight, and as everyone is probably aware, OSHA stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Despite popular opinion, OSHA is not out to ambush anyone. In the current political climate, the agency is not the fine-generating, money-making machine it once was. OSHA can be extremely helpful in offering advice about worksite safety. Additionally, they’re very open about what violations they’re looking for and which ones they consider the most grievous.

A visit to the OSHA website shows you how many violations they’ve issued in the past year, for which infraction, and how much they’ve collected in fines. OSHA looks for quite a few possible violations every time they visit a jobsite, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll look at only the top ten, since that’s where they place the majority of their emphasis.

OSHA inspectors are concentrating their efforts on what they consider the most dangerous violations, and letting the minor violations slide. They’re not being as nit-picky about minor violations, but when they cite you, you’ll get hit hard. Your best protection is to take a look at your operation and make sure you’re squeaky clean before the inevitable visitor arrives.

OSHA is very open about what they’re looking for, and publishes an annual list of the most cited violations. In recent years, they’ve been separating these violations into two categories: serious and willful.

  • Serious: A serious violation took place, but was due to error, an unforeseen circumstance, accidental, overlooked, and was non-intentional. Either a warning or a fine will be imposed, depending on the violation and if it has happened before.
  • Willful: The company or person in charge knew this was a violation, but chose to ignore or hide it. The incident may have resulted in the injury or death of a worker that was the clear fault of management or it may involve a violation that the company had been warned about repeatedly. A willful violation can result in heavy fines or even a prison sentence. OSHA takes a dim view of this practice.

We have both the serious and willful top ten violations listed here, and although the numbers may look daunting, it’s good news. While the top ten of 2019 list is in exactly the same order as it was for 2018, the number of violations were down in every category. This also holds true for the previous couple of years. It seems contractors are more aware and more safety conscious than ever before.

A construction site is no place for a lax attitude when it comes to worker safety, including ethically, morally, or legally. Remain diligent and keep your workers safe. Remember, OSHA swims in these construction waters.


OSHA’s Serious Top Ten Violations

1       Fall Protection (1926.501)    5,677

2       Scaffolding (1926.451) 2,939

3       Hazard Communication (1910.1200)      2,754

4       Ladders (1926.1053)   2,463

5       Lockout/Tagout (1910.147)  2,415

6       Respiratory Protection (1910.134) 1,902

7       Machine Guarding (1910.212)        1,737

8       Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178)    1,593

9       Fall Protection Training Requirements (1926.503)    1,584

10     Personal Protective/Life Saving Equip/Eye & Face Protection (1926.102)     1,449


OSHA’s Willful Top Ten Violations

1       Fall Protection (1926.501)    164

2       Protective System Requirements (1926.652)   31

3       Permit-Required Confined Spaces (1910.146) 28

4       Scaffolding (1926.451) 17

5       Lockout/Tagout (1910.147)  14

6       Machine Guarding (1910.212)        13

7       Evacuation Requirements     12

8       Asbestos (1926.1101) 11

9       Respiratory Protection (1910.134) 9

10     Fall Protection Training Requirements (1926.503)    8




Marc Dodson


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