What are OSHA Violations and Penalties: 6 Types, Fines, and List

OSHA violations are breaches of the standards and regulations set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal agency tasked with ensuring safe working conditions for employees across the United States. These violations can range from minor infractions, such as failing to post mandatory safety documentation, to major breaches that pose immediate and serious threats to worker safety. But what exactly constitutes an OSHA violation, and what are the repercussions for non-compliance?

In this blog, we’ll delve deep into the six primary types of OSHA violations, the penalties associated with them, and the fines that businesses might face for non-adherence. Whether you’re an employer aiming to maintain a safe workplace or an employee keen on understanding your rights, this guide will provide a comprehensive overview of OSHA’s regulatory landscape.

What are OSHA Violations? Definition and Meaning

OSHA violations refer to breaches of the standards and regulations set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA is a federal agency responsible for ensuring workplace safety in the United States. When employers fail to adhere to the safety and health standards established by OSHA, they commit violations.

These standards are designed to protect workers from potential hazards in the workplace, ensuring a safe and healthy working environment. Violations can range from minor infractions, such as failing to post mandatory safety documentation, to major breaches that pose immediate and serious threats to worker safety. Depending on the severity and type of violation, employers can face penalties, fines, and even legal action.

How Are OSHA Violations Discovered?

OSHA violations are discovered through various means, ensuring that workplaces adhere to safety and health standards. Here’s how OSHA typically identifies these violations:

  • Workplace Inspections: OSHA conducts both announced and unannounced inspections of workplaces. These inspections are carried out by trained compliance officers who assess the workplace for potential safety and health hazards.
  • Employee Complaints: Employees or their representatives can file a complaint with OSHA if they believe there is a serious hazard or that their employer is not following OSHA standards. OSHA treats these complaints confidentially and may conduct an inspection based on the complaint.
  • Referrals: Other federal, state, or local agencies, individuals, organizations, or the media can inform OSHA of potential hazards at a workplace. These referrals can lead to inspections.
  • Follow-up Inspections: If a workplace has previously been cited for a violation, OSHA may return to ensure that the employer has corrected the issue and is complying with the standards.
  • Targeted Inspections: OSHA sometimes conducts inspections of industries with high injury and illness rates or focuses on specific hazards that are of national concern.
  • Investigations after Severe Incidents: Employers are required to report any work-related fatalities, hospitalizations, amputations, or losses of an eye to OSHA within a specific time frame. These reports can trigger an investigation.
  • Whistleblower Investigations: OSHA investigates complaints from employees who report violations of various workplace safety, health, and other laws without facing retaliation from their employers.
  • Special Emphasis Programs: OSHA sometimes establishes special emphasis programs to target specific high-risk industries or hazards. These programs may involve increased inspections, outreach, and training.
  • Recordkeeping Audits: Employers are required to maintain logs of work-related injuries and illnesses. OSHA may review these records to ensure accurate reporting and identify patterns that suggest the presence of significant hazards.
  • Public and Media Reports: News reports or public information about workplace accidents or hazards can also prompt OSHA to investigate a particular workplace or industry.

It’s worth noting that OSHA doesn’t have the resources to inspect every workplace in the U.S., so it prioritizes inspections based on the factors mentioned above. The goal is to ensure the safety and health of workers by identifying and addressing hazards before they lead to serious injuries or fatalities.

OSHA Violations In The Workplace

6 Types Of OSHA Violations and Fines

OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, classifies violations into various categories based on their severity and potential risk to employee safety. Here are the six types of OSHA violations explained:

1. Serious Violation

This type of violation is issued when there’s a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. Essentially, it’s a situation where a hazard could cause accidents or illnesses that would most likely result in death or significant harm, and the employer was aware or should have been aware of this hazard.

2. Willful Violation

Explanation: A willful violation is given when an employer intentionally and knowingly commits a violation. This means the employer is aware that a hazardous condition exists, knows the condition violates a standard or regulation, and makes no effort to eliminate the hazard. It’s a deliberate act of ignoring OSHA’s regulations.

3. Repeated Violation

If an employer has been previously cited for a particular violation and that same violation is found upon a subsequent inspection, it is classified as a repeated violation. It indicates that the employer did not take corrective action after the first citation.

4. Other-than-serious Violation

This type of violation has a direct relationship to job safety and health but is not serious in nature. It might not cause death or serious harm, but is still related to job safety and health. For instance, failing to post OSHA-required documentation in a visible location might be considered an other-than-serious violation.

5. Failure to Abate

After OSHA cites an employer for a violation, the employer is given a specific timeframe to correct the issue. If the employer does not correct the violation within that timeframe, they may receive a “failure to abate” violation. It means the previously identified hazard was not fixed or addressed in the given time.

6. De Minimis Violation

These are minor infractions that do not have a direct impact on the health or safety of workers. While they don’t result in a citation or penalty, OSHA will inform the employer of the violation and expect it to be corrected. It’s a technical violation of OSHA rules that doesn’t pose immediate harm but needs correction.

Understanding these violations is crucial for employers to ensure they maintain a safe workplace and avoid potential penalties.

Type of ViolationDescriptionFine
De MinimisEssentially a verbal warning. Non-compliance is noted, but there’s no monetary penalty.None
Other-than-SeriousIdentified when an issue is minor and doesn’t pose a significant threat to employees.$0 to $13,653 per violation
SeriousIssued when a severe issue is identified that could lead to a workplace incident.$964 to $13,653 per violation
Willful ViolationsIssued when management is aware of a serious issue but has taken no action to resolve it.$963 to $136,532 per violation
Repeated ViolationsIssued when a company is non-compliant for the same issue more than once within a 3-year span.$963 to $136,532 per violation
Failure to AbateIssued when a company has been cited for a violation, but the issue remains unresolved by the time allotted by OSHA.$13,653 per day past the abatement date

Companies should be aware of these penalties to ensure compliance and maintain a safe working environment.

Top 10 OSHA Violations in The Workplace for 2022


1. Fall Protection, General Requirements (1926.501):

  • Violations: 5,260
  • This standard outlines the requirements for fall protection to prevent employees from falling into or through holes and openings in walking/working surfaces.

2. Hazard Communication Standard, General Requirements (1910.1200):

  • Violations: 2,424
  • This standard ensures that the hazards of all chemicals produced or imported are classified and that information concerning the classified hazards is transmitted to employers and employees.

3. Respiratory Protection, General Industry (1910.134):

  • Violations: 2,185
  • This standard provides guidelines on the selection and use of respirators to protect workers from hazardous air contaminants.

4. Ladders, Construction (1926.1053):

  • Violations: 2,143
  • This standard covers ladder safety in construction, ensuring that ladders are used safely to prevent falls.

5. Scaffolding, General Requirements, Construction (1926.451):

  • Violations: 2,058
  • This standard pertains to the safety requirements for scaffolding in construction.

6. Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout), General Requirements (1910.147):

  • Violations: 1,977
  • This standard covers the servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment in which the unexpected energization or start-up of the machines or equipment, or release of stored energy, could harm employees.

7. Powered Industrial Trucks, General Requirements (1910.178):

  • Violations: 1,749
  • This standard pertains to the safety requirements for the operation of powered industrial trucks, including forklifts.

8. Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503):

  • Violations: 1,556
  • This standard outlines the criteria for fall protection training programs.

9. Eye and Face Protection (1926.102):

  • Violations: 1,401
  • This standard requires employers to ensure that employees have appropriate eye or face protection if they are exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.

10. Machinery and Machine Guard, General Requirements (1910.212):

  • Violations: 1,370
  • This standard covers the general safety requirements for the guarding of machinery to protect operators and other employees from hazards.

These violations highlight areas where employers need to focus their safety training and compliance efforts to ensure a safe working environment for their employees.

OSHA Violations List

How Does OSHA Determine Fines and Penalties?

OSHA determines fines and penalties based on a variety of factors, including the severity of the violation, the size of the business, the employer’s history of violations, and the employer’s good faith efforts to comply with OSHA standards. Here’s a breakdown of how OSHA determines these fines and penalties:

  • Severity of the Violation: The more severe the violation, the higher the potential fine. For instance, willful or repeated violations typically result in much higher penalties than other-than-serious violations.
  • Size of the Business: Smaller businesses might receive reduced penalties based on their size. OSHA recognizes that smaller businesses may not have the same resources as larger companies, so penalties are often adjusted accordingly.
  • Employer’s History: If an employer has a history of OSHA violations, especially repeated or willful violations, they may face higher penalties. Conversely, employers with a clean record over a certain period might receive reduced penalties for certain violations.
  • Good Faith Efforts: Employers who demonstrate a genuine effort to comply with OSHA standards and regulations might receive reduced penalties. This can include actions like proactive safety training, voluntary self-inspections, or promptly addressing identified hazards.
  • Adjustment Factors: OSHA may adjust penalties based on factors like inflation. For instance, the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act requires agencies to adjust their civil monetary penalties for inflation each year.
  • Failure to Abate: If an employer fails to correct a violation by the abatement date set by OSHA, they may face additional daily penalties until the violation is corrected.
  • Posting Requirements: Employers are required to post OSHA citations at or near the place of the violation. Failure to do so can result in additional penalties.
  • Settlements: In some cases, employers might enter into a settlement agreement with OSHA, which can lead to reduced penalties in exchange for other corrective actions or commitments.

It’s important to note that the penalty amounts are subject to change, and OSHA periodically adjusts its penalty amounts based on factors like inflation. Employers should always refer to the latest OSHA guidelines and regulations to understand the current penalty structures.

Why is Fall Protection Consistently a Top Concern?

Fall protection consistently ranks as a top concern for OSHA and other safety organizations for several reasons:

  • Leading Cause of Fatalities: Falls are among the leading causes of worker fatalities, especially in the construction industry. According to OSHA, falls from elevations account for a significant portion of deaths in the construction sector.
  • Variety of Work Environments: Many jobs, especially in construction, require workers to operate at heights. This includes tasks on roofs, scaffolds, ladders, and other elevated platforms. Each of these environments presents unique challenges and risks.
  • Complexity of Proper Fall Protection: Implementing effective fall protection requires a combination of proper equipment, training, and procedures. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and ensuring every worker is protected in various scenarios can be complex.
  • Evolving Standards: As new technologies and methods emerge in industries like construction, the standards and best practices for fall protection also evolve. Keeping up with these changes and ensuring compliance can be challenging for employers.
  • Equipment Misuse or Failure: Even when fall protection equipment is available, it might be used incorrectly or might not be adequately maintained, leading to potential failures.
  • Lack of Training: Proper training is crucial to ensure that workers understand the risks and know how to use fall protection equipment correctly. Inadequate training can lead to misuse or non-use of essential protective gear.
  • Economic Pressures: In some cases, employers might skip or rush safety measures, including fall protection, to meet tight deadlines or reduce costs. This can increase the risk of falls.
  • Complacency: Workers who have been performing tasks at heights for years without incident might become complacent, thinking they’re immune to the risks. This mindset can lead to skipping safety precautions.
  • Diverse Range of Hazards: Fall hazards aren’t limited to just falling off an edge. They can include falling through holes, tripping over obstacles, or being struck by falling objects.
  • High Costs of Fall Incidents: Beyond the tragic loss of life or severe injuries, falls result in substantial financial costs due to medical expenses, lost work time, and potential legal liabilities.

Given these reasons, OSHA and other safety organizations emphasize the importance of fall protection, aiming to reduce the number of fall-related incidents and improve worker safety across various industries.

OSHA Violations Meaning

How Can Employers Ensure Workplace Safety To Avoid OSHA Violations

Ensuring workplace safety and avoiding OSHA violations is a multifaceted effort that requires proactive measures by employers. Here are steps employers can take to ensure workplace safety and stay compliant with OSHA standards:

  • Stay Informed: Regularly review and stay updated with OSHA standards and regulations relevant to your industry. OSHA often updates its guidelines, so continuous learning is essential.
  • Conduct Regular Safety Audits: Periodically inspect the workplace to identify potential hazards. Address any identified risks promptly.
  • Provide Safety Training: Ensure that all employees receive comprehensive safety training relevant to their roles. Regularly update and refresh this training.
  • Use Proper Safety Equipment: Provide employees with the necessary safety equipment and ensure they know how to use it correctly. Regularly inspect and maintain this equipment.
  • Establish a Reporting System: Create an open channel for employees to report safety concerns or potential hazards without fear of retaliation.
  • Develop and Enforce Safety Protocols: Create clear safety procedures and protocols. Ensure that all employees understand and adhere to these protocols.
  • Engage in Continuous Improvement: Regularly review and update safety procedures based on new information, incidents, or changes in the workplace.
  • Maintain Accurate Records: Keep detailed records of any work-related injuries or illnesses. This not only helps in case of OSHA inspections but also allows employers to identify patterns and address recurring issues.
  • Emergency Preparedness: Develop and regularly update emergency response plans. Conduct drills to ensure employees know what to do in case of emergencies like fires, chemical spills, or natural disasters.
  • Seek External Expertise: Consider hiring or consulting with safety experts or industrial hygienists to evaluate workplace conditions and recommend safety improvements.
  • Promote a Safety Culture: Foster a workplace culture where safety is a priority. Encourage employees to take ownership of their safety and the safety of their colleagues.
  • Address Employee Concerns: Actively listen to employee feedback and concerns about safety. Taking swift action in response to these concerns demonstrates a commitment to safety.
  • Stay Updated with Training: As new equipment, processes, or materials are introduced, ensure that employees receive the necessary training to handle them safely.
  • Post-Mandatory Documentation: Display OSHA posters and other mandatory documentation in prominent places where employees can easily see them.
  • Seek Feedback: Regularly solicit feedback from employees on safety protocols and training. They often have firsthand insights into potential hazards or areas of improvement.

By proactively addressing workplace hazards, providing proper training, and fostering a culture of safety, employers can significantly reduce the risk of accidents, injuries, and OSHA violations.

A hazard refers to any source of potential damage, harm, or adverse health effects on something or someone under certain conditions at work.

OSHA regularly reviews and updates its regulations. For specific changes in 2023, one should refer to the official OSHA website or see OSHA notices published throughout the year.

An OSHA citation is a document issued by an OSHA inspector if they determine that an employer has violated OSHA standards. It describes the specific nature of the violation and any associated penalties.

Fines vary based on the severity and type of violation. OSHA adjusts its penalty amounts periodically, so it’s essential to refer to the latest OSHA penalties chart for accurate figures.

Safety training educates employees about potential hazards, safe practices, and procedures, ensuring a safe workplace and reducing the risk of accidents and injuries.

Working conditions, including the physical environment, tools, equipment, and operational practices, directly influence an employee’s health or safety. Poor conditions can lead to increased safety hazards and health risks.

OSHA classifies violations into various categories, including serious, willful, repeated, and other-than-serious. Each category has specific criteria and associated penalties.

OSHA publishes an annual list of its top 10 safety violations. This list can be found on the official OSHA website.

OSHA standard 1926.1053 pertains to ladders in the workplace, emphasizing their safe use, maintenance, and training requirements.

OSHA inspectors conduct both announced and unannounced inspections of workplaces to assess compliance with safety standards. If violations are found, OSHA can issue citations and fines.

OSHA requires employers to provide a safe workplace free from recognized hazards, comply with OSHA safety standards, and ensure employees have access to safety training and equipment.

OSHA fines vary based on the type and severity of the violation. Violations range from minor, with smaller fines, to severe, with significant penalties.

Yes, employers have the right to contest OSHA citations, penalties, and abatement dates. They can do this by formally notifying OSHA within a specific timeframe after receiving the citation.

OSHA sets safety standards for machinery, including requirements for machine guarding, to protect workers from hazards like moving parts, flying chips, and sparks.

Individuals can ask OSHA questions or report concerns through the official OSHA website, local OSHA offices, or the OSHA hotline.

This FAQ provides a general overview of OSHA and workplace safety. For detailed information on specific topics, it’s always best to refer directly to OSHA’s official resources or consult with safety professionals.

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Author

Mughees Ali

Mughees is a dedicated health and safety manager with 15 years in the field, currently working in the renewable energy sector in Germany. His commitment to ensuring safe and healthy work environments reflects his expertise and the value he brings to the industry and community.