Licensed Professional Engineers



Top OSHA Violations and How to Avoid Them

Vol. 1 July/August 2009 - Hazard Communication OSHA Citations

Industrial Clues - Top OSHA Violations and How to Avoid Them – Volume 1

This newsletter is designed to educate our industrial clients with information on common OSHA safety violations, based on current OSHA statistics for most-cited violations. Each issue will examine a different OSHA safety violation, giving statistics on number of citations issued, common errors, and how to avoid this type of citation.

OSHA Inspections

OSHA conducts inspections without advance warning. According to, companies have the right for the compliance officers to obtain an inspection warrant prior to entering the worksite. Marshall v. Barlow’s Inc. was a case that went to the Supreme Court, and established that automatic authorization of warrantless inspections are unconstitutional. Probable cause has to be shown to obtain the warrant. This will delay the inspection process for a limited time. If there is no justifiable reason for the inspection, and no warrant is issued, the company does not have to allow inspectors access to the facility.

When do OSHA inspections occur?

OSHA states on its website that inspections are performed on a priority basis. Inspections of imminently dangerous situations take priority above all other inspections. Sites that OSHA is aware of that have hazards that could result in serious injuries and/or fatalities will get inspected before any other facilities. OSHA will have company fix the hazard and ensure the safety of employees. OSHA may seek an injunction to prevent further work in such hazardous areas if the employer fails to do so. Facilities that have fatalities occur, particularly when multiple employees are involved, are OSHA’s second priority in performing inspections. Complaint and referrals are OSHA’s third inspection priority. Employees can request an OSHA inspection when they believe there to be a violation at their facility that could cause serious bodily injury. Programmed inspections are OSHA’s lowest priority. OSHA performs these inspections based on criteria such as high-risk industries, randomly chosen facilities, injury incidence rate, and facilities using toxic substances. Follow-up inspections verify that an employer has remedied any cited OSHA violations. Failure to fix the violations can result in daily fines until the problem is fixed.

#3 Ranked OSHA Citation – 29 CFR 1910.1200 – Hazard Communication

This OSHA standard covers communication of chemical hazards. Certain exemptions apply to different products that have their own specific hazard communication criteria, including hazardous wastes, hazardous substance defined by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability ACT, wood products, food and drinks, drugs, cosmetics, radiation, and biological hazards. From October 2007 through September 2008, there were 7,058 citations issued for 1910.1200, for a fine total of $1,814,962. This was the third most-cited standard. The first and second most-cited standards were 1926.0451 and 1926.0501, both relating to the construction industry.

Important sections in 1910.1200:

1910.1200 (e) – This section calls for the employer to develop and maintain a written hazard communication program that will describe how the warning, material safety data sheets (MSDS), and employee information requirements will be met. This plan must include a list of hazardous chemicals present in the work place, as well as methods to perform non-routine tasks, and hazard associated with chemicals in unlabeled pipes.

1910.1200 (f) – This section discusses labeling. Each container of hazardous chemicals leaving the workplace must be labeled to identify the hazardous chemicals, to communicate necessary hazard warnings, as well as the name and address of the responsible entity. There are some exemptions listed to this requirement. The standard goes on to state that appropriate hazard warnings must be used in conjunction with the specific hazard information. The standard is somewhat vague on the contents of the hazard labeling – the standard states “Appropriate hazard warnings, or alternatively, words, pictures, symbols, or combination thereof, which provide at least general information regarding the hazards of the chemicals, and which, in conjunction with the other information immediately available to employees under the hazard communication program, will provide employees with the specific information regarding the physical and health hazards of the hazardous chemical.” …” (29 CFR 1910.1200(f)(5)(ii)) If knowledge of hazards of a chemical changes, labeling will be updated with the current information.

1910.1200 (g) – This section deals with material safety data sheets (MSDS). Manufacturers and importers of chemicals must provide a MSDS for each hazardous chemical. Employers are required by this standard to post a MSDS in the workplace for each hazardous chemical used. These material safety data sheets must contain the identify of the chemical, the chemical and common name(s) of the hazard ingredient(s). The physical and chemical characteristics of the hazardous chemicals must be disclosed on the MSDS, as well as the physical hazards of the chemical such as potential for fire, explosion, and reactivity with other substances. Health hazards of chemicals must be disclosed on the MSDS. The primary route of entry to the human body must be disclosed, as well as the OSHA-allowed exposure limit, the ACGIH threshold limit, and any other applicable exposure limit. Other information which must be contained in MSDS include whether any chemical is a known carcinogen, safe-handling precautions, emergency and first aid information. Employers must keep copies of MSDS for each hazardous chemical, and make these copies readily accessible to employees in the work area, during their shift.

1910.1200 (h) –This section calls for employees to be trained and informed of the hazardous chemicals in the work place. The hazard communication program must be available to employees, including material safety data sheets. Employers are required to train employees in methods of determining if there has been a release of the hazard chemicals in the work place. Employers must also be instructed in how to protect themselves from the hazards by work practices, and procedures to follow in the event of exposure. The hazard communication program must be explained to employees.

1910.1200 (i) – This section deals with trade secrets. This allows companies who believe disclosure of the exact chemical content of their products would allow competitors to copy their work. There are extensive limitations and requirements for these provisions – interested parties should examine the details of this section.

OSHA Violation Fines

Fines are based on the severity of the violation. The lowest category of OSHA fine is referred to as “Other-than-serious”. These hazards threaten health and safety but would not cause death or serious injury. Fines for these hazards range from $0 to $1000 per incidence. “Serious” violations are for hazards where there is a substantial probability for death or serious injury. OSHA will fine the employer between $1500 to $7500 per violation depending on severity of situation. When an employer knows that a hazard exists, knows that the hazard violates OSHA standards, and does nothing to fix the situation, it is referred to as a “willful” violation. Fines for this range from $5000-$70,000. If an employee dies as a result of a willful violation, the company can be fined up to $500,000. Repeated violations can be fined up to $70,000 per violation in the last three years. Failure to correct a previous violation can result in further fines of $7,000 per day.

Safety Engineering Resources

This newsletter is brought to you by Safety Engineering Resources. We are licensed engineers who can identify and correct any machine hazards in your facility—call us at (479) 549-4860, ask for John. Or send an email to