EHS Administration, EHS Management

How’s Your Compliance with OSHA’s Frequently Cited Standards?

How likely are you to see an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspector? The agency’s continually growing list of emphasis programs offers one clue. Then there are the OSHA standards the agency cites more often than others.

OSHA recently announced its top 10 most frequently cited safety and health standards for fiscal year 2022. Five were construction industry standards: fall protection general requirements, fall protection training, ladders, scaffolding, and eye and face protection.

The other five are general industry standards:

  • Hazard Communication (HazCom) (29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) §1910.1200)—cited 2,424 times and sometimes referred to as “worker right-to-know,” which covers the information about hazardous substances in the workplace provided through chemical labels, safety data sheets (SDSs), and training;
  • Respiratory Protection (§1910.134)—cited 2,185 times and covers the variety of respirators designed to protect workers from fogs, gases, harmful dusts, insufficient oxygen environments, mists, smokes, sprays, and vapors;
  • Lockout/Tagout (§1910.147)—cited 1,977 times and covers the “control of hazardous energy” posed by equipment and machines in the workplace;
  • Powered Industrial Trucks (§1910.178)—cited 1,749 times and covers the forklifts, lift trucks, and other vehicles used to raise, lower, move, or remove materials in a facility; and
  • Machine Guarding (§1910.212)—cited 1,370 times and covers safeguards on machines to prevent amputations, burns, crushed fingers or hands, and other injuries.


Under OSHA’s HazCom standard, you must develop a written HazCom program covering all employees potentially exposed to hazardous substances at your facility or worksites. At multiemployer worksites, both the staffing agency and the host employer are responsible for HazCom.

A written program must include information and procedures for labels and other warnings, SDSs, and employee HazCom training. An OSHA compliance safety and health officer (CSHO) will cite a violation for the lack of a written HazCom program.

A CSHO will also issue citations for missing elements of a compliant HazCom program, like the lack of labels, SDSs, and an adequate training program.

During an inspection, the agency CSHO will interview employees and managers to assess the effectiveness of your HazCom program. Interviews will also help the inspector determine whether employees understand the hazards of chemicals in the workplace.

Employees in your facility must be aware of the hazards they face on duty. They also must understand how to read container labels; find, read, and understand SDSs; and know what precautions to take when exposed to hazardous substances.

Employees also must be trained in how to detect the presence or release of a hazardous chemical so they can take appropriate steps to protect themselves.

Other checks during an inspection include:

  • Designation of the person responsible for obtaining and maintaining SDSs;
  • How data sheets are maintained—in notebooks in work areas, in a pickup truck at a jobsite, or via telefax—and procedures for retrieving SDSs electronically, including backup systems to be used in the event of failure of the electronic equipment and how employees access the SDSs; and
  • Procedures to follow if an SDS is not received at the time of first shipment or if it is suspected an SDS is not complete or correct and how to determine if an SDS is current.

Respiratory protection

In the industrial hygiene “hierarchy of controls,” personal protective equipment like a respirator is the hazard control of last resort, when all other methods—elimination, substitution, engineering controls, and administrative controls—fail to reduce worker exposures to safe levels.

If your employees are exposed to respiratory hazards after all other control measures, you need a written respiratory protection program and must provide respirators at no cost to your employees, and you also must designate a qualified person to administer the program.

You will need to provide the type of respirator—an elastomeric full- or half-facepiece respirator; a filtering facepiece respirator (FFR), like an N95 and a P100; a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR); a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA); or a supplied-air respirator—that’s appropriate for the respiratory hazards in your facility.

Under the standard, employees must have a medical evaluation to determine whether they can safely use a respirator. Respirators then must be fit tested before initial on-the-job use. A negative- or positive-pressure tight-fitting facepiece respirator must pass a qualitative fit test (QLFT) or quantitative fit test (QNFT). Annual fit tests are required after the initial fit test, as are additional fit tests when an employee reports physical changes like facial scarring, dental changes, or change in body weight or when physical changes might affect respirator fit.

You also must train your employees on the requirements of the respiratory protection standard, the capabilities and limitations of respirators, respirator use in emergency situations, how to put on a respirator and perform a seal check, and how to remove it.

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, respirators, especially disposable N95 FFRs, were in short supply. OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended that healthcare employers use foreign-made FFRs that lacked National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approval or decontaminate and reuse disposable respirators. OSHA temporarily suspended enforcement of the annual fit-testing requirement to conserve supplies of respirators.

The agency has since lifted exceptions for foreign-made respirators and respirator decontamination and reuse. OSHA is again enforcing the annual fit-testing requirement.


OSHA has an ongoing national emphasis program (NEP) for amputations in manufacturing that includes inspections for and enforcement of the lockout/tagout and machine guarding standards.

Under the “control of hazardous energy” standard, you must develop formal practices and procedures necessary to disable machinery or equipment while it is being serviced or maintained.

Elements of the standard include:

  • Ensuring that employees who work in an area where lockout/tagout procedures are utilized are instructed in the purpose and use of the energy control procedures and understand the standard’s prohibition against restarting or reenergizing machines or equipment that has been locked or tagged out;
  • Training employees who must lock out machines or equipment to perform service or maintenance to recognize hazardous energy sources in your workplace, the type and magnitude of energy found in your workplace, and your facility’s lockout/tagout procedures, including the prescribed means and methods of isolating and/or controlling energy;
  • Specific procedures for tagout systems and their limitations; and
  • Retraining all employees to maintain proficiency or when new sources of hazardous energy are installed or new lockout/tagout procedures are implemented in your facility.

In addition to developing, documenting, implementing, and enforcing lockout/tagout procedures in your facility, you need to ensure your workforce only uses authorized lockout/tagout devices specified for the equipment or machinery in your facility. Lockout/tagout devices must be durable, standardized, and substantial. Devices must identify the individual who locked out or tagged out a machine or piece of equipment.

Powered industrial trucks

Several of OSHA’s regional offices have powered industrial truck regional emphasis programs (REPs) or REPs for warehousing and storage that include inspection procedures for powered industrial truck compliance.

During an inspection, an agency CSHO will determine what types of powered industrial trucks are in use at your facility or site and which of your employees are designated to operate them. The inspector will assess operators’ training and experience and inspect powered industrial trucks for potential equipment defects or hazards.

The CSHO will interview operators about training, evaluations, incidents and accidents, and how defective trucks and repairs are handled. The agency inspector will interview you or your trainers about training policies, procedures, and programs; the frequency of training; how operators’ competency is assessed when hiring experienced operators; how operators are evaluated; how trucks are serviced and maintained; knowledge of owner’s manuals; and procedures for the removal of defective trucks from service and their return to service.

Other checks during OSHA inspections can include:

  • Whether industrial trucks meet industry design standards,
  • Supervisors’ awareness of equipment designations,
  • Forklift traffic and speed control in your facility,
  • Operators’ abilities to turn forklifts or drive in reverse when the mast is elevated,
  • Blocking mast and upright during maintenance to prevent caught-between injuries,
  • Use of an approved lifting platform secured to forks to prevent fall injuries,
  • Use of appropriate tie-off fall protection for open lifting platforms used in warehouse stocking,
  • Operators’ knowledge of proper powered industrial truck use, and
  • Procedures in your facility for fuel handling and storage and changing and charging batteries.

Machine guarding

Violations of OSHA’s machine guarding standard often result in large penalties. In August, the agency cited Houston-based grocery store chain Fiesta Mart LLC for 7 willful violations, with $1,015,189 in proposed penalties, for failing to guard machinery following amputation injuries at 2 of the chain’s Texas locations.

Two employees suffered fingertip amputations while using band saws to cut meat at the chain’s supermarkets in Dallas and Plano. In 2015, workers sustained amputation injuries in Fort Worth and Dallas stores, and in 2018, workers at stores in Garland and Plano suffered similar injuries.

Last year, OSHA cited Tootsie Roll Industries LLC for a willful violation of the machine guarding standard after a 48-year-old worker suffered a partial finger amputation, seeking $136,532 in proposed penalties.

As mentioned above, OSHA’s NEP for amputations in manufacturing is aimed at compliance with the lockout/tagout and machine guarding standards. The agency also has a local emphasis program (LEP) in Wisconsin for the food manufacturing industry focused on lockout/tagout and machine guarding compliance.

Under the amputations NEP, an agency CSHO will perform a facility walkaround and look for equipment and machinery that pose an amputation hazard. The CSHO will pay particular attention to employee exposure to nip points, pinch points, shear points, cutting actions, and other points of operation. The food industry LEP in Wisconsin also includes a walkaround of food production facilities. A CSHO will observe how employees interact with machinery and evaluate machinery for any guarding deficiencies that would leave employees exposed to in-running nip points, catch points, sheer points, pinch points, or other moving parts.  

Assess your enforcement exposure

You need to assess your exposure to OSHA enforcement. Is your industry the focus of an OSHA national, regional, or local emphasis program? Are there equipment, hazards, or processes in your facility that are the subject of an agency NEP, REP, or LEP? Are there hazards in your facility covered by the agency’s five most frequently cited general industry hazards—HazCom, respiratory protection, lockout/tagout, powered industrial trucks, and machine guarding?

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