How maintenance teams can avoid the top OSHA violations

October 11, 2023

| 8 min read

How maintenance teams can avoid the top OSHA violations

Discover everything maintenance teams need to know about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), its regulations, compliance standards, and how to avoid OSHA violations.

Here’s a scary stat: 4,764 workers died on the job in 2020 in the United States. This equates to 3.4 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. Besides the potential for accidents, injury, and death, these fines greatly affected the bottom line, potentially costing businesses millions.

Many of the top OSHA violations have a connection to everyday maintenance tasks, especially for those working in manufacturing. Another thing they had in common? They were all preventable. Solid planning and helpful technology make it easy for maintenance teams to avoid health and safety violations while creating a better health and safety program.

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What is OSHA?

OSHA stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is a government-run organization that assures safe and healthy working conditions for millions of US public and private sector employers and workers. They do this by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.

What is the purpose of OSHA?

Employees in the U.S. have the right to a safe workplace, and OSHA helps to protect these rights. This is achieved through establishing and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance to employers and workers.

OSHA is also responsible for the hefty price tags attached to non-compliance and is the organization that maintenance teams have to impress most often regarding health and safety audits.

What is the purpose of OSHA?

Employees in the U.S. have the right to a safe workplace, and OSHA helps to protect these rights. This is achieved through establishing and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance to employers and workers.

OSHA is also responsible for the hefty price tags attached to non-compliance and is the organization that maintenance teams have to impress most often regarding health and safety audits.

OSHA regulations, OSHA compliance, and OSHA penalties

The following is a brief rundown of the rules and responsibilities mandated by OSHA and the impact of breaking these regulations.

What are employers responsible for?

Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workers with a safe and healthy workplace. Employers must provide workers with a hazard-free workplace and follow all OSHA standards. Employers must find and correct all safety and health problems, first by changing working conditions, like switching to safer chemicals, and then by providing protective equipment.

Besides the potential for accidents, injury, and death, OSHA violations inflicted a heavy toll on the bottom line, costing businesses over $400 million last year.

Other guidelines that employers must follow include:

  • Prominently displaying official OSHA requirements, citations, and injury and illness data.
  • Informing workers about hazards in a language they can understand through training, labels, alarms, and other methods.
  • Keeping accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Performing tests in the workplace, such as air sampling.
  • Providing the required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers.
  • Not retaliating against workers for using their rights under the law.

These are some examples of the broad policies employers at production facilities must follow. However, many OSHA regulations apply to specific industries or in certain regions. Some examples of these standards include providing fall protection, ensuring safety in confined spaces, putting guards on dangerous machines, and providing respirators to employees.

What rights and responsibilities do workers have?

Workers are also responsible for attending training, ensuring they report unsafe work, and following guidelines set out by employers and OSHA. In addition to their duties, workers also have several rights under OSHA laws, including:

  • The right to file a confidential complaint to have their workplace inspected.
  • The right to receive copies of the results from health and safety tests and monitoring.
  • The right to participate in an OSHA inspection and speak privately with the inspector.
  • The right to file a complaint with OSHA if their employer has retaliated against them.
  • The right to file a complaint if punished or retaliated against for acting as a whistleblower.

How were OSHA standards created?

OSHA standards-setting process is a multi-step activity that relies heavily on public engagement. New standards can be recommended by OSHA itself or through third-party petitions from organizations like the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, state and local governments, and labor representatives.

After deciding to move forward with a new standard, OSHA often asks the public for their feedback and insight. After considering all information and testimonies, OSHA develops and issues a final standard that becomes enforceable.

What happens during an OSHA inspection?

When OSHA finds employers violating the regulations, compliance officers initiate inspections without advance notice. Here’s how the on-site inspections usually happen:

  • The compliance officer presents their credentials.
  • They explain why the workplace was selected for inspection and describe the inspection process, including walkaround procedures, employee representation, and employee interviews.
  • The compliance officer and facility representatives walk through the workplace, inspecting for hazards.
  • The compliance officer talks with the employer and employee representatives about their findings.
  • If no hazards or OSHA violations are found, the inspection is over. If an inspector finds violations or serious hazards, they may issue a citation and fine. A citation outlines methods that can be used to fix a problem and a deadline for correcting the issue, as well as the date by which the corrective actions must be completed.

What are the fines for OSHA violations?

Fines for non-compliance with OSHA regulations can vary based on the seriousness of the violation of the organization’s record and the industry.

As of September 2021, OSHA’s maximum penalty amounts can vary depending on the nature and severity of the violation. The penalties are adjusted annually to account for inflation. Here are some of the maximum penalty amounts that were in place as of 2021:

  • Serious and other-than-serious violations: The maximum penalty was $13,653 per violation.
  • Willful or repeated violations: The maximum penalty was $136,532 per violation.
  • Failure to abate: Employers faced a maximum penalty of $13,653 per day beyond the abatement date.
  • Posting requirements: Employers who violated the requirement to post a citation or the OSHA “Job Safety and Health: It’s the Law” poster could face penalties of up to $13,653.

The most common OSHA violations

Below are the 10 OSHA violations most frequently committed by workplaces in 2020:

OSHA Violation Number of violations in 2020
Fall Protection – Construction (29 CFR 1926.501) 5,424
Hazard Communication Standard, General Industry (29 CFR 1910.1200) 3,199
Respiratory Protection, General Industry (29 CFR 1910.134) 2,649
Scaffolding, General Requirements, Construction (29 CFR 1926.451) 2,538
Ladders, Construction (29 CFR 1926.1053) 2,129
Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout), General Industry (29 CFR 1910.147) 2,065
Powered Industrial Trucks, General Industry (29 CFR 1910.178) 1,932
Fall Protection – Training Requirements (29 CFR 1926.503) 1,621
Eye and Face Protection (29 CFR 1926.102) 1,369
Machinery and Machine Guarding, General Requirements (29 CFR 1910.212) 1,313

How maintenance teams can prevent OSHA violations

Maintenance teams can use a few tools and techniques to avoid violating some OSHA regulations. Maintenance management software, such as a CMMS, can implement these tips.

Hazard communication

It’s never easy to tear yourself away from a job when your to-do list is a mile long. Then again, when you don’t make time for health and safety tasks, it can result in a considerable fine.

OSHA is also responsible for the hefty price tags attached to noncompliance, and is the organization maintenance teams have to impress most often when it comes to health and safety audits.

Maintaining records and providing health and safety training is often a hassle, even if it’s essential. Having an efficient method for storing employee information can go a long way in saving you time and helping you stay compliant. Create employee profiles for everyone on the maintenance team. On each profile, list the person’s training, the dates they completed training, and the training they still need. Make sure to note deadlines for certification renewals on each profile. Create a notification system so both you and the employee are alerted about any training that is about to expire. Lastly, use these profiles to communicate any hazardous situations or changes in policy to all staff.


In 2020, lockout/tagout violations stood out prominently, ranking as the sixth most frequent OSHA breach. This ranking is notable given that lockout/tagout procedures are standard in the maintenance and manufacturing sectors. Facilities often faced citations for neglecting to initiate an energy control program and needing more adequate training.

Energy control programs play a pivotal role in safeguarding maintenance teams from injuries caused by the significant hazardous energy often retained by machinery. Even though numerous facilities maintain an energy control program, proper implementation remains challenging.

A significant barrier to effective implementation is the issue of accessibility. Technicians swamped with tasks, often find it daunting to seek out procedures if they’re not immediately accessible. By digitizing the energy control program and ensuring mobile access, facilities can streamline implementation and significantly reduce the risk of costly OSHA violations.

Avoiding OSHA violations is a collective maintenance responsibility

The mandate of OSHA is clear: to ensure that workplaces across the United States are safe and hazard-free for employees and employers. Yet, the alarming statistics and the high number of preventable OSHA violations underscore maintenance teams’ vital role in championing workplace safety. It’s not just about the bottom line or avoiding hefty fines. At the core, it’s about valuing human life and well-being and creating a proactive safety culture.

Maintenance teams equipped with the right tools, training, and technology, can drastically reduce the risks associated with daily operations. Implementing a digital approach, such as utilizing maintenance management software, can simplify the complex world of OSHA regulations and standards. By digitizing records, enhancing hazard communication, and ensuring easy accessibility to safety protocols, teams can foster a culture where safety is integrated into the daily workflow, not an afterthought.

Fall protection–training and general requirements

In 2020, fall protection remained a critical concern, with over 7,000 citations issued for fall protection-related violations. These citations predominantly focused on inadequate training and the absence of essential protective equipment.

While the ideal is to have an entirely trained workforce, it might seem overwhelming in the immediate future. Nevertheless, effectively managing the current trained workforce is paramount to sidestep OSHA breaches. It’s vital to align work orders with trained, certified staff. Leveraging a digital work order system aids in identifying available, adequately trained personnel, ensuring no one is working at elevated heights without requisite training.

Critical equipment for fall protection encompasses harnesses, guardrails, and anchors, among others. Proper maintenance and storage of these items are non-negotiable. An efficient inventory management system is indispensable for ensuring worker safety and OSHA compliance. Digitizing inventory procedures enhances accessibility, boosts efficiency, and assures workers of the availability and quality of protective equipment.

Machine guarding

Machine guarding continued to be a prominent point of OSHA citations in 2020. On average, there were multiple violations recorded daily. Common infractions included issues at the point of operation and absent or improperly attached machine guards.

It’s tempting to assume a simple facility walkthrough, installing necessary guards, and ensuring training would rectify this. However, machine guarding is not a one-off task; it demands continuous vigilance. Guards might degrade over time, or employees might inadvertently misplace them. Hence, consistent monitoring is vital.

Automation is a viable solution to uphold machine guarding standards. Instituting automated work orders and maintenance triggers can facilitate regular inspections, repairs, or replacements. For instance, scheduling a specific guard for quarterly replacements and integrating these into an automated system can prevent potential oversights, safeguarding against OSHA breaches.

Personal protective and lifesaving equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) and lifesaving equipment, crucial elements of workplace safety, have consistently been areas of concern in OSHA inspections. In 2020, over 1,600 facilities faced citations for either not providing adequate PPE and lifesaving equipment or not ensuring their proper utilization by employees. Though specific numbers for 2023 aren’t available yet, these violations continued, emphasizing the importance of PPE in diverse maintenance activities.

The type of PPE required can vary significantly across different tasks within a facility. For instance, while one maintenance activity might necessitate hearing protection, another might demand a respirator or face shield. Given the vast array of tasks and corresponding safety equipment, it often takes more work for staff to recall the exact PPE needed for each job. This can lead to lapses in safety practices and, potentially, non-compliance with OSHA regulations.

A practical solution to this challenge involves associating each maintenance task or asset with a detailed PPE checklist. Such an approach not only streamlines PPE practices within a facility but also serves as a consistent reminder for the workforce. Enhancing accessibility by digitizing these checklists further ensures adherence to safety protocols, positioning facilities better in compliance and worker protection.

Safety and production always go hand in hand

Maintenance teams must proactively address potential OSHA violations in a world where safety and productivity go hand in hand. Many of the most common violations can be sidestepped with diligent oversight, continuous training, and the strategic use of digital tools. By prioritizing safety, facilities can minimize the risk of costly penalties and foster a work environment where employees feel protected and valued.

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