Most-Cited OSHA Standards and Their Cost to Businesses

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in the year 2013, 4,405 fatal injuries happened at workplaces in the United States. The figure may seem large when considered by itself, but comparatively, it represents a reduction of almost 25 percent in fatal injuries since 2003. Nowadays, businesses are prioritizing safety and have made progress in improving the working environment for their workers by partnering with organizations that offer training and certifications on safety.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, falls from the construction trade are generally the leading cause of fatal injuries. Violations involving fall protection ranks high up the list, with penalties and fines collected amounting to more than twice that of the second-leading cause of injuries in the workplace. Smaller companies have been found to be at greater risk than bigger companies, as in 2013 alone, small businesses paid nearly four times the amount in fines as large corporations with more than 250 employees. To get a better picture of how these violations to health and safety standards affect businesses, let’s take a look at the value of safety from OSHA’s statistics.

Top 10 Most Frequently Violated OSHA Standards
Topping the list of the most frequently violated OSHA standards is Fall Protection: 7,900 inspections were carried out, which resulted in 8,176 citations and a total of more than $20 million in fines collected. In 2013 alone, 36.9 percent of the total deaths in the construction industry were attributed to falls. That’s 294 lives that could have been saved, had fall protection been implemented by companies across all industries.

Scaffolding and Machine and Machinery Guarding came in at second and third place, respectively, and fines of approximately $9 million each were assessed due to these violations. OSHA standards that regulated the safety rules involved in the control of hazardous energy, powered industrial trucks, ladders, wiring methods and components, electrical systems, Hazard Communication, and respiratory protection rounded out the top 10 most frequently violated safety standards. Respiratory equipment violations alone, although ranked the lowest in the list, contributes to more than $2.4 million in fines yearly – an amount that could overwhelm any small business trying to get off the ground.

OSHA Penalties by Company Size
While it may be easy to think that larger companies pay larger amounts in fines for violating OSHA safety standards, statistics for 2013 show otherwise. The smallest companies with only 1 to 19 employees contributed a staggering amount of more than $70 million in penalties. In contrast, the largest companies with 250+ employees contributed the smallest amount, totaling to only around $16.2 million. In fact, the numbers seem to indicate that the smaller the company, the bigger the fines paid for safety violations. The amount paid in fines is inversely proportional to the number of employees that a company has. This may be attributed to the limited resources that smaller companies have in terms of complying with health and safety regulations.

OSHA Fines by Industry
Specialty trade contractors paid more than $48 million in fines in 2013 – an amount that’s nearly five times that of the penalties contributed by the fabricated metal product industry, which comes second on the list of top 10 industries that paid the most in fines. The construction industry came in third in paying fines due to safety standard violations, contributing nearly $8 million. The remaining seven industries in the top 10 ranged from food manufacturing to transportation equipment manufacturing, with the tenth-ranked industry contributing approximately $3 million in fines.

It’s worth noting that the number one industry that gave the most in penalties due to OSHA standard violations contributed to 48.48 percent of the total amount paid by the top 10 list of industries ranked by fines paid.

Smaller companies tend to be at greater risk than larger corporations when it comes to safety violations. The solution is to partner with only reputable companies to provide safety training to employees across a range of varied industries. While reputable companies may charge more for their services, it will certainly pay off in the long run. Occupational injuries and illnesses cost businesses across all sectors approximately $170 billion annually. Having safety and health management systems in place can reduce occupational injuries and illnesses by 20-40 prcent, which not only cuts costs, but also saves lives.

For the infographic version of this article, click on The Value of Safety by The Asbestos Institute.

Kerby Hyde ([email protected]) is the Director of Operations for The Asbestos Institute, a Phoenix-based training center that seeks to educate clients through a diverse group of classes and training seminars. Contact the The Asbestos Institute at 602-864-6564 or visit

Posted by Kergy Hyde on Jan 26, 2015