After the Inspection: Guide to OSHA Violations

Posted on 4/5/2016 by James Griffin

With OSHA civil penalties for employer safety violations set to increase up to 80% this year, successful safety inspections and audits are more important than ever in 2016.

Regardless of the amount OSHA can fine your business, every compliance officer who conducts workplace safety inspections follows certain standards for identifying violations, summarizing findings, and assessing penalties. In February, we posted a step-by-step guide to OSHA inspections. Today, we look at the types of citations OSHA inspectors may issue when they do identify unsafe conditions in the workplace.

End of the Inspection

The final step of a typical OSHA compliance inspection is the closing conference. During the closing conference, the OSHA compliance officer summarizes his or her findings, notes any violations discovered, and provides the employer with information about safety outreach and assistance programs.

Get more information about OSHA inspections here.

OSHA Violation Reports

If an OSHA inspector identifies any potential violations of OSHA law or regulation, the inspector must note it in his or her findings. For each alleged violation of OSHA standards, the inspector prepares a report (OSHA FORM 1B) describing the observed hazard, the danger to employees, any law or regulation the employer violated, and other relevant information as outlined in the OSHA Field Operations Manual.

Severity of OSHA Safety Violations

Not all work safety violations are created equal. OSHA categorizes violations based on severity. From least to most severe, OSHA cites employers for the following types of safety violations:

De Minimis Conditions—violations where an employer has implemented a safety measure other than that specified in regulation, but not one that immediately or directly impacts safety and health. Examples include minor variations in recordkeeping, testing, or inspection regulations or minor irregularities in the built environment.

Other-than-Serious Violations—violations where any potential injury/harm is not likely to be serious enough to cause death or permanent injury.

Serious Violations—violations with a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result. Substantial probability of harm here does not mean the chance of something going wrong; it means the measure of how bad things could get if they went wrong. It’s more about the type of exposure or harm than the chance of harm.

Willful Violations—violations where an employer demonstrates an intentional disregard for the requirements of the OSH Act and standards or plain indifference to employee safety and health.

Citations for Repeat OSHA Violations

In addition to the types of OSHA citations above, repeat safety violations are classified in two categories:

Failure-to-Abate—once an inspector cites an employer establishment for a hazardous condition, the employer must correct the violation. This is called “abatement.” Part of the process for dealing with a found violation is for the inspector to return to the site at some later date and see if the employer has abated the violation. If upon follow-up inspection the hazardous condition is not abated, that in itself is a violation.

Repeated Violations—if an employer is cited for a violation, and then corrects it, but it happens again at a later inspection, the subsequent occurrence is a repeated violation

OSHA Penalties on the Rise

Under current law and regulation, penalties for violations of OSHA work safety standards may range up to $7,000 for each serious violation and up to $70,000 for each willful or repeated violation. These penalty caps were set by the OSH Act of 1970.

When the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 became law in November, Section 701 of the Bill authorized OSHA to adjust civil penalties to match inflation. Other Federal government agencies have been authorized to raise penalty amounts in line with inflation since 1990, and they do so regularly. By this August, OSHA will adjust its civil penalties for inflation for the first time since 1970. This could result in a rise in penalties up to 82%, judging by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Read more about the imminent rise in OSHA penalties here.

Assessed penalties rarely reach these heights. OSHA’s policy is to reduce penalty assessments for small employers who demonstrate good-faith efforts to correct violations and based on the gravity of the alleged violation (the actual risk of harm).

Currently, OSHA inspectors assess penalties according to this formula in its 2012 penalty policy.

OSHA Training You Can Trust

Protect your employees with expertly designed, convenient OSHA training. Available 24/7, these interactive OSHA safety training courses help employees identify, mitigate, and avoid the hazards in your workplace. Employees who complete OSHA training at are ready to make on-the-job decisions that keep themselves and their co-workers safe.

For OSHA 10-hour training to protect employees in general industry workplaces, take the newly updated 10 Hour OSHA General Industry Online Course.

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