Top OSHA violations increase; stricter enforcement program launched

September 13, 2010
By: Vicki Bell

OSHA has announced that the top 10 violations for 2009 increased almost 30 percent over the same time period in 2008. It also has implemented more aggressive targeted enforcement and higher penalties.

OSHA violations

Each year the U.S. Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reveals the top 10 most frequent workplace safety violations for the previous year. The preliminary statistics for 2009 have been released, and according to the department, the number of top 10 violations has increased almost 30 percent over the same time period in 2008.

The top 10 violations and the number recorded are:

  1. Scaffolding – 9,093
  2. Fall Protection – 6,771
  3. Hazard Communication – 6,378
  4. Respiratory Protection – 3,803
  5. Lockout/Tagout – 3,321
  6. Electrical (Wiring) – 3,079
  7. Ladders – 3,072
  8. Powered Industrial Trucks – 2,993
  9. Electrical – 2,556
  10. Machine Guarding – 2,364

These statistics cover all businesses regulated by OSHA. Are they the same top 10 for metal fabricators?

Top Metal Fabricating Violations

The OSHA Web site allows visitors to enter Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes to find which violations occur in specific business segments. Several codes cover metal fabricating. Among them are 2431, Millwork; 3443, Fabricated Plate Work (Boiler Shops); 3449, Miscellaneous Structural Metal Work; 3479, Coating, Engraving, and Allied Services, Not Elsewhere Classified; 2498, Fabricated Pipe and Pipe Fittings; 3499, Fabricated Metal Products, Not Elsewhere Classified; 3999, Manufacturing Industries, Not Elsewhere Classified.

The top 10 violations for October 2008 through September 2009 in the Fabricated Metal Products, Not Elsewhere Classified category (3499) are:

  1. General Requirements for All Machines—OSHA standard 19100212, which covers machine guarding—110 violations with penalties totaling $588,075.
  2. Respiratory Protection—108 violations with penalties totaling $21,496.
  3. Hazard Communication—106 violations with penalties totaling $29,145.
  4. Control of Hazardous Energy (lockout/tagout)—93 violations with penalties totaling $111,442.
  5. Powered Industrial Trucks—78 violations with penalties totaling $33,203.
  6. Wiring Methods, Components, and Equipment for General Use—62 violations with penalties totaling $31,203.
  7. Abrasive Wheel Machinery—58 violations with penalties totaling $25,896.
  8. Spray Finishing Using Flammable and Combustible Materials—54 violations with penalties totaling $50,111.
  9. General Requirements Standard 19100303—46 violations with penalties totaling $18,566.
  10. Mechanical Power Presses and Mechanical Power-Transmission Apparatus—36 violations each with penalties totaling $25,128 and $17,434, respectively.

Violations and Fines

The OSHA Web site has many examples of these violations in metal fabricating plants during the reported timeframe. In August 2009 the department proposed nearly $43,000 in fines against a North Haven, Conn., firearms manufacturer for widespread machine guarding and lockout/tagout hazards. The Marlin Firearms Co. was cited for a total of 24 alleged serious and other-than-serious violations following a comprehensive inspection that began March 3. According to an OSHA news release, the inspection identified dozens of instances throughout the plant where workers were exposed to possible lacerations, amputation, and crushing injuries from unguarded moving parts of mechanical power presses and other machinery, as well as a lack of specific procedures to prevent the accidental start-up of numerous machines during setup, maintenance, and repair. The inspection also found electrical, fall, and compressed-air hazards, as well as improperly recorded injuries and illnesses.

“Workers can lose their fingers, limbs, or lives in a few seconds if a machine starts up unexpectedly or its moving parts are not guarded against contact,” said OSHA Area Director Robert Kowalski. “There is no reason for those injuries to occur if the employer ensures the proper safeguards are effectively and continuously in place and in use.”

In June 2009 OSHA proposed $105,000 in penalties against Trussway Ltd.’s Orlando, Fla., plant following a December 2008 inspection that revealed three repeat, nine serious, and seven other-than-serious violations of OSHA standards.

The three repeat violations with $70,000 in proposed fines addressed hazards associated with improperly guarded radial arm saws; radial arm saws extending past the table edge; and a radial arm saw not returning to its starting position when the handle was released.

The nine serious violations carrying $35,000 in proposed penalties addressed hazards associated with hearing conservation, lockout/tagout of accidental energy start-up, machine guarding, electricity, and hazard communication.

The other-than-serious violations addressed OSHA recordkeeping, personal protective equipment, respiratory protection, and lockout/tagout. The agency determined that neither death nor serious physical harm was likely to result from these hazards, so no monetary penalties have been proposed, but the company must make the required changes to bring it into compliance with OSHA standards.

“The penalties being proposed are larger because the company had been warned of these violations at two of its locations but chose not to make the needed corrections at all of its plants,” said Les Grove, OSHA’s area director in Tampa. “We expect companies to be proactive toward worker safety and not wait for an OSHA inspection before coming into compliance.”

Cracking Down

Earlier this year OSHA announced that it was implementing a new Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) with more aggressive, targeted enforcement and higher penalties. SVEP went into effect June 18, 2010. It replaces OSHA’s Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP), which had been highly criticized in a Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (IG) report. According to the report, EEP was mismanaged so badly that OSHA did not comply with EEP's requirements for 97 percent of sampled cases qualifying for it. No appropriate enforcement action was taken in 29 cases, the IG found — and those employers subsequently experienced 20 fatalities, of which 14 deaths shared similar violations, the report stated.

Among SVEP stipulations are:

  • Mandatory follow-up inspections.
  • A focus on high-emphasis hazards identified from the National Emphasis Program, such as fall hazards, amputations, combustible dust, crystalline silica, excavating/trenching, lead, and shipbreaking.
  • Implementation of a nationwide referral procedure in which OSHA may inspect related worksites and workplaces of a SVEP employer.
  • Public identification of employers that are part of SVEP.

As noted in a blog post on MSDSonline, employers should pay special attention to the third item on the list, the new referral procedure, as SVEP signals OSHA’s commitment to identifying patterns of noncompliance at related employer worksites. Employers with serious violations could find every one of their workplaces on OSHA’s inspection list.

An informal, unscientific poll on Web site conducted in August 2010 revealed that 45 percent of poll takers’ businesses had undergone OSHA inspections. Under SVEP, that percentage likely could rise along with levied penalties.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209