[2021] What are the types of OSHA violations? The Penalties?

In the end, it all goes down to what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says. If a compliance officer spots a safety violation in a workplace during an inspection, he or she can issue citations and fines. And, as a safety leader, you have to make sure that this doesn’t happen. 

The level of fine depends on a number of factors, including whether the employer was acting in good faith, the size of the business, and the type of OSHA violation they allegedly committed. But what are the types of OSHA violations?

There are six main types of violations, and you can find out more about them and the potential fines they carry in this article. They relate to hazards and breaches of standards in the workplace, and how the employer has dealt, or not dealt, with them. For some real-world examples, see our list of the highest OSHA fines.

OSHA violations penalties issued in the past year

Every year, the National Safety Council (NSC) and OSHA release the top ten list of frequently cited safety violations in the United States. As of this writing, the latest report is from fiscal year 2019 and it looks like this:

ViolationPenalties issued
1. Fall Protection – General Requirements6,010
2. Hazard Communication3,671
3. Scaffolding2,813
4. Lockout/Tagout2,606
5. Respiratory Protection2,450
6. Ladders2,345
7. Powered Industrial Trucks2,093
8. Fall Protection – Training Requirements1,773
9. Machine Guarding1,743
10. Eye and Face Protection1,411

NSC President and CEO Lorraine M Martin said of the most recent list: “The OSHA Top 10 list is a helpful guide for understanding just how adept America’s businesses are in complying with the basic rules of workplace safety. This list should serve as a challenge for us to do better as a nation and expect more from employers.”

What Are the Types of OSHA Violations?

De Minimis

De minimis violations are not serious issues in the eyes of OSHA. They do not directly affect safety but are usually administrative issues. It could be a technical point that sees you follow a different standard than that demanded by OSHA regulations. 

ExamplesA De Minimis violation could be using something other than the standard lettering size on workplace signs. Another example could be using the wrong type of ladder or using a non-standard ladder with a 13-inch gap between rungs rather than 12.

There is no fine for a de minimis violation. The inspector notes it on your case file and asks that you rectify it.

 Other-Than-Serious

An other-than-serious violation is one that is not likely to cause immediate serious injury or death of an employee in the workplace. It does, however, affect the health of employees or their safety. Examples of other-than-serious violations include poor OSHA recordkeeping, failing to post the correct notices on-site, and not storing materials in a proper manner. To ensure your recordkeeping or documentation is spotless, have a look at our TRIR and DART guides.

ExamplesIf you don’t provide the necessary amount of light at the workplace according to the OSHA lighting requirements but there is no immediate threat to the workers’ health and safety, you may get away with an other-than-serious violation. But if, for example, the emergency lighting is not working, you are very likely to receive a serious violation like this one

When setting a fine for an other-than-serious violation, OSHA inspectors have a large amount of leeway. Their decision may be influenced by the size of the company (they may look kindly on small businesses), how well it cooperates, its safety history, the severity of the violation, and other factors. The inspector can choose to waive the fine completely or impose the maximum possible amount.

Serious

When there is a genuine health hazard or a risk of of injury, illness, or death, OSHA counts it as a serious violation. If the employer should have known about a hazard but did not remedy it, it comes under this category. 

Examples
If a company fails to correctly protect workers, this is a serious violation. It might be that the worker did not have the correct safety boots for the flooring in the workplace. Or you didn’t meet the fire extinguisher height and placement requirements.

The compliance officer can adjust the fine based on the severity of the citation, the employer’s good faith, the company’s previous safety record, and other factors.

 Repeated

A repeated violation is one that occurs within three years of OSHA citing the business for the same or a similar issue. It shows that the company has done nothing to fix the problems of the past, and OSHA treats this very seriously.

This does not even have to be a repetition of an incident on the same site or even in the same state. That’s why, within a large business, it’s important to establish a consistent safety culture and procedures across locations. 

Examples
A construction company has a flawed LOTO safety process and OSHA has already issued a fine during an inspection in Chicago. Soon after, another inspection in Los Angeles discovers the same issue. Those are two different sites but the same violation within the same company, so it counts as a repeated violation.

The fine for a repeated violation can be very high. If you are still appealing a citation, it doesn’t become a repeated violation. OSHA must have finalized the original citation for that to count.

Willful

The most serious type of OSHA violation is willful. This is reserved for situations when employers know they are placing their workers in danger or that they are violating safety standards.

Example
Serious injuries or deaths caused by falls from poorly constructed scaffolding even after previous incidents for the same reason. Alternatively, a faulty piece of machinery crushes an employee, the employer takes no action and a similar incident occurs in the future.

Willful OSHA violations earn the highest fines and, in the event of a fatality, the administration can bring criminal charges.

Failure to Abate

If you do not remedy a citation by the designated date, you are guilty of a failure to abate violation. You then face a significant daily fine until you fix the problem.

What Are the Penalties? 

Here are the maximum penalties for different violations. Inspectors take many factors into account when calculating the appropriate fine for each individual violation.  

ViolationMaximum Fine
De Minimis$0
Other-Than-Serious$13,494 per offense
Serious$13,494 per offense
Repeated$134,937 per offense
Willful$134,937 per offense with the possibility of criminal charges in the event of a fatality
Failure to Abate$13,494 per day until citation remedied

How to Deal With OSHA Inspections?

There are a number of reasons why OSHA may choose to inspect your workplace. It could be that there has been a serious accident, a worker has complained, another body has referred you to OSHA over a hazard, you may work in a hazardous industry or the compliance officer may return to check whether you have abated the previous OSHA citations or not.

OSHA carries out low-priority inspections (where the risk is less severe) over the phone. For more severe issues, an inspector will turn up on-site unannounced. In this situation, they will present their credentials and inform you as to why they are inspecting. They must wait for permission to inspect, but it would be very bad to refuse them.

There should be an opening conference to establish the reasons and scope for the inspection. The inspector will then review your records and safety data sheets, and take a walk around your site. During the inspection, they may ask questions that are best answered honestly. Before they leave, they will hold a closing conference to tie up all the loose ends. They will then leave and mail you a citation if they find it necessary. This could arrive within a few days, but it can also take up to six months.

Posting Requirements

Following the inspection, the compliance safety and health office (CSHO) might decide if there was a violation. If they do, they will issue a Notice of Unsafe or Unhealthful Working Conditions. You will also receive a pamphlet that tells you:

●       What the problem is.

●       Possible ways to remedy it.

●       The date by which you should remedy it.

You must display the notice, or a copy of it, in the area in which each violation is located. The reason is to alert employees to a situation in which they may not be safe. The OSHA posting requirements demand you keep the display for three working days (not including weekends or Federal holidays) or until you abate the violation, whichever is longest.

Employer Options

When you receive a notice, you can either:

●       Fix the problem within the timeframe stipulated. After this, you should inform the OSHA area director as to how and when you have corrected the hazards. This is called a letter of corrective action.

●       Request an informal conference with the OSHA area director. You can do this within 15 days of receipt of the notice, and you can discuss both the violations and the abatement date.

How To Petition for Modification of Abatement (PMA)

On some occasions, you might not be able to abate the violation within the allowed timeframe. In this case, you have until one working day after the abatement date to file a Petition for Modification of Abatement (PMA). If successful, you will receive additional time to comply. To file the PMA, you must send it in writing to the OSHA area director and it should include:

  1. Details of how you attempted to comply with the original date.
  2. How much time you need to comply with and why.
  3. How you can guarantee the safety of employees until the abatement.
  4. Certification that you have posted the petition. You must leave it posted for ten days to allow employees to file objections.

If OSHA agrees to the PMA, it may hold a monitoring inspection to satisfy itself that you are making progress.

Failure to Abate: What Happens?

If the compliance officer decides that you have not satisfactorily abated the violation, they issue a Failure to Abate notice. In these circumstances, you must pay a fine of up to $13,494 per day until you remedy the citation.

FAQ

 What is the difference between a willful violation and a serious violation?

With a willful violation, the employer knew exactly what the violation was, but did nothing to protect their employees. A serious violation is where the employer should have known about the hazard, but for some reason did not.

What are the different types of OSHA inspections?

  1. Imminent Danger Inspections
    Where a compliance officer thinks that there may be an immediate risk of serious physical harm or fatality. They will request the employer remedy the hazard immediately without undergoing the usual processes.
  2. Investigative Inspections
    Usually performed soon after a major accident in which three or more employees suffer serious injury or fatality.
  3. Employee Complaint Inspections
    Either current or former employees can file a complaint, containing specific information about alleged violations on site. If OSHA agrees it is a violation, a compliance office inspects.
  4. Programmed Inspections
    Inspections at high-risk sites, intended to ensure all is being done to keep workers safe. OSHA may investigate based on injury occurrence, employee risk, or simply at random.
  5. Follow-Up Inspection
    OSHA returns to a site that received a citation to check if the problem is abated. 

What are the OSHA fines for not reporting injuries?

Employers must report inpatient hospitalizations, loss of an eye, and amputations within 24 hours, and fatalities within eight hours. Failure to do so results in an other-than-serious citation, which carries a fine of up to $13,494.

Make sure that you know everything about the OSHA recordable criteria to keep yourself out of trouble.

Conclusion

If you ever wondered what are the types of OSHA violations, we hope this article has set them out clearly. It’s easy to see why knowing this is so important. This information can prevent injuries, deaths, and huge fines for your company. There could also be a criminal offense if you wilfully ignore safety issues in the workplace. This is why OSHA is so keen to uphold its standards for safety in the workplace.

References and Further Reading

●     How To Implement A Comprehensive Safety Program

●     Improving The Safety Culture In Your Workplace

●     Inspections By Establishment

●     OSHA Violation Memes

●     How To Report Violations