The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) unveiled a preliminary list of its top 10 most frequently cited workplace safety standards for fiscal year (FY) 2020 during a webinar with the National Safety Council’s (NSC) Safety+Health magazine.
While the 10 most frequently cited standards did not change from FY 2019, their relative positions changed.
Fall Protection—General Requirements (29 CFR §1926.501) remained OSHA’s most frequently cited standard for the tenth consecutive fiscal year. Ladders (§1926.1053) climbed to a top-five spot, and Respiratory Protection (§1910.134) rose to third place in 2020 from fifth place in 2019.
FY 2020 ended on September 30, 2020.
“In a year that was defined by the ongoing pandemic, workplace safety became more important than ever,” NSC President and CEO Lorraine M. Martin said in a statement. “The OSHA Top 10 list reminds us why we must continue to focus on persistent safety risks as we navigate new challenges. These data help us pinpoint areas where we can improve so we can better prioritize workplace safety in the future world of work.”
The most frequently cited standards are evenly divided between construction and general industry standards.
In FY 2020, the most frequently cited OSHA standards were:
- Fall Protection—General Requirements (§1926.501): 5,424 violations;
- Hazard Communication (§1910.1200): 3,199 violations;
- Respiratory Protection (§1910.134): 2,649 violations;
- Scaffolding (§1926.451): 2,538 violations;
- Ladders (§1926.1053): 2,129 violations;
- Lockout/Tagout (§1910.147): 2,065 violations;
- Powered Industrial Trucks (§1910.178): 1,932 violations;
- Fall Protection—Training Requirements (§1926.503): 1,621 violations;
- Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment—Eye and Face Protection (§1926.102): 1,369 violations; and
- Machine Guarding (§1910.212): 1,313 violations.
Fiscal Year vs. Calendar Year
While effects of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted most of calendar year 2020, the pandemic began in the seventh month of FY 2020.
A Labor Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit of OSHA recently found that, during the pandemic, the agency received 15% more complaints in 2020 compared with the same period in 2019 but performed 50% fewer inspections and performed fewer on-site inspections. The OIG concluded OSHA’s performance has placed workers’ safety and health at greater risk.
For example, OSHA received 9,741 COVID-19 complaints and 1,300 referrals from February 1, 2020, to October 26, 2020. Of those, 35% (3,460 complaints) were received from 2 industry sectors: health care (2,363) and retail trade (1,097).
Most programmed on-site inspections were suspended, and the agency’s compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) switched from on-site inspections to mostly remote inspections conducted by telephone, videoconference, or e-mail, according to the OIG. However, OSHA’s enforcement database does not track whether inspections are performed on-site or remotely. The OIG recommended that OSHA track remote inspections retroactively to February 1, 2020, and compare the remote inspections with on-site inspections and analyze the frequency and timeliness of identifying hazards and ensuring their abatement.
The OIG also faulted OSHA for not establishing a COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS). The OIG noted that four state plan states issued their own ETS:
- Virginia adopted its temporary standard on July 15, 2020.
- Michigan issued its ETS on October 14, 2020.
- Oregon adopted an ETS on November 16, 2020.
California issued its ETS on November 30, 2020, and has had a permanent Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard since 2009.