OSHA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for Fiscal Year 2021

OSHA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for Fiscal Year 2021

Take a look at the newest data shaping the list standards that are most frequently cited in 2021.

Each year, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) releases preliminary data to support their latest Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards list at the National Safety Council’s Safety Congress & Expo. With a slight delay in last year’s data release due to COVID-19, the Administration is back on track announcing the new Top 10 list in partnership with Safety + Health magazine.

This year, the newest information for fiscal year 2021 was announced by Acting Director of OSHA and Directorate of Enforcement Programs Patrick Kapust in a presentation called, “See it live: OSHA’s Top 10,” moderated by S+H Associate Editor Kevin Druley. In the presentation, which took place at Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, Kapust announced the newest lineup of the Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards and the number of violations for each standard between October 1, 2020 and September 1, 2021. Let’s first take a look at the list:

OSHA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards

  1. Fall Protection, general requirements (29 CFR 1926.501)
  2. Respiratory Protection, general industry (29 CFR 1910.134)
  3. Ladders, construction (29 CFR 1926.1053)
  4. Scaffolding, general requirements, construction (29 CFR 1926.451)
  5. Hazard Communication Standard, general requirements (29 CFR 1910.1200)
  6. Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout), general requirements (29 CFR 1910.147)
  7. Fall Protection - Training Requirements (29 CFR 1926.503)
  8. Eye and Face Protection (29 CFR 1926.102)
  9. Powered Industrial Trucks, general requirements (29 CFR 1910.178)
  10. Machinery and Machine Guarding, general requirements (29 CFR 1910.212)

Now that you’ve seen the lineup, let’s take a more in-depth look at the new Top 10. Starting with the standard that saw the fewest number of violations in the list:

Machinery and Machine Guarding.

Machinery and Machine Guarding Once again, Machine Guarding is at the bottom of the list. While this might be the last standard on the Top 10, it is most certainly not the least. In fiscal year 2021, 1910.212 saw 1,113 violations. While this number is technically down from fiscal year 2020, the issue remains the same—workplaces are not putting together proper machine guarding programs that keep workers safe.

For example, there were several news releases from OSHA during the time the preliminary data was pulled for FY 2021 that highlight some of the reasons why machine guarding is so important.

Metal Stamping Manufacturer. According to a press release from OSHA on July 19, an El Paso, Texas metal stamping manufacturer failed to protect its workers form the dangers of moving machine parts and as a result a worker suffered the amputation of two fingers inside a 500-ton hydraulic press. After an investigation, OSHA found that the company failed to use required machine guards to prevent employees from coming into contact with machines’ moving parts and did not conduct regular inspections on the equipment which led to machine malfunctions.

Aluminum Parts Manufacturer. In another release published on September 27, OSHA detailed an investigation that involved a Ravenna, Ohio aluminum parts manufacturer forgoing machine guarding practices that ultimately led to the death of a 43-year-old worker. According to the OSHA investigation, the employee was allowed to bypass a guarding mechanism designed to protect from the barrier door closing. Because of this, and a malfunction in the equipment, the worker’s head was struck by the barrier door as it closed, killing the employee as he loaded a part into the machine.

In a statement, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jim Frederick said, “A worker lost his life because the company put the value of production speed before the safety of their employees. OSHA will continue to hold bad actors accountable and emphasize the importance of complying with safety and health requirements that can save lives.”

Powered Industrial Trucks

Coming in at number nine in the list is Powered Industrial Trucks, general requirements (29 CFR 1910.178). According to Kapust, the preliminary data showed that there were 1,420 violations in fiscal year 2021. This is a bit of a decline from the number violations in fiscal year 2020, which reported 1,369 violations.

According to OSHA, the definition of a, “powered industrial truck” is a man operated vehicle used to move, raise, lower, or remove large objects or a number of smaller objects on pallets or in boxes, crates, or other containers. These are most commonly referred to as forklifts or lift trucks.

OSHA explains the hazards present when operating these vehicles can shift depending on the machine and work conditions. It is important to regularly assess work assignments for the powered industrial truck, train the operator to safely handle the work and recognize hazards. It is also pertinent to implement a plan to inspect the forklift or lift truck frequently.

When it comes to safely operating Powered Industrial Trucks, OSHA strongly recommends safety professionals to be aware of the conditions at your workplace so that you can identify potential hazards. Let’s break down a few aspects of the workplace that could lead to additional hazards for forklift operators:

Physical Conditions. Surface or ground conditions are important when safely operating a lift truck. Operating surfaces must be strong enough to support the machine, its load and operator. It must also be free of holes, grease, oil or obstructions that could cause the forklift to skid, bounce or possibly tip over.

Pedestrian Traffic. Many pedestrians or bystanders are injured in forklift-related accidents so it is important to understand when these injuries could occur and how to prevent them. Keep an eye out for situations that might cause a forklift to strike a bystander or for a forklift’s load to fall, causing injuries.

Loading Docks. Loading docks can be fatal for lift truck operators if hazards are not properly identified. Safety professionals should look for potential hazards such as falling off the edge of the dock and skidding or slipping due to wet or icy conditions. You should be sure to maintain a safe distance from the edge, keep working surfaces clean and clear and paint the edges of the loading dock to improve visibility.

Eye and Face Protection

Personal Protective Equipment and Life Safety Equipment — Eye and Face Protection (29 CFR 1926.102) came in at number eight in the list of the Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards and is our first standard for the construction industry. According to the preliminary data for fiscal year 2021, there were 1,452 violations, a decline from the 1,621 violations in fiscal year 2020.

Kapust explained OSHA investigations found jobsites were not enforcing eye and face protection properly, workers were not wearing safety glasses that offered side protection and there was improper use of appropriate prescription lenses and practices.

According to the standard, “The employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye or face hazards from flying particles, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.”

This includes ensuring that protective equipment meets the following minimum requirements:

  • Adequate protection against the particular hazards for which they were designed
  • Reasonably comfortable when worn under the designated conditions
  • Fit snugly and not unduly interfere with the movements of the wearer
  • They shall be durable and capable of being disinfected and easily cleaned All protective eye and face protection devices must comply with any of the following consensus standards:
  • ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices
  • ANSI Z87.1-2003, Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices
  • ANSI Z87.1-1989 (R-1998), Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection

Workers cannot be protected from the hazards to their eyes and face unless they are actively wearing their PPE the entire time they are exposed to potential hazards. In order to ensure that workers are most likely to continue to wear their eye and face protection for the duration of their shift, be sure to ask for employee feedback. Understand why workers may feel the need to get a break from their PPE. IS it because the lenses fog? Perhaps the fit is not comfortable on the bridge of their nose or the back of their ears. Take time to listen to those who are interacting with this PPE the most and find ways to compromise—it could be the difference in your worksite having an injury-free day.

Fall Protection – Training Requirements

Now on to number seven: Fall Protection – Training Requirements (29 CFR 1926.503), our second construction industry standard in the Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards list so far. The preliminary data showed that the violations for this standard in fiscal year 2021 fell to 1,666 from the 1,932 violations the previous year.

During the presentation, Kapust said that OSHA was finding that competent persons were not completing the training, construction companies were not re-training their workers when applicable and were not giving written certification of the training. OSHA found these violations the most amongst roofing contractors, framing contractors, single-family housing construction and residential remodels. According to the standard, and employer shall assure that each employee has been trained by a competent person qualified in the following areas:

  • The nature of fall hazards in the work area
  • The correct procedures for erecting, maintaining disassembling and inspecting the fall protection systems to be used
  • The use and operation of guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems, warning line systems, safety monitoring systems, controlled access zones, and other protection to be used
  • The role of each employee in the safety monitoring system when this system is used
  • The limitations on the use of mechanical equipment during the performance of roofing work on low-sloped roofs
  • The correct procedures for the handling and storage of equipment and materials and the erection of overhead protection
  • The role of employees in fall protection plans.

The standard also says that when an employer has reason to believe that an employee who has already been trained does not have the understanding and skill required to complete their job safely, the employee can be asked to retrain. Retraining is sometimes required by the standard. The circumstances in which this is necessary include changes in the workplace that render the previous training obsolete, changes in the fall protection systems or equipment, or inadequacies in the affected employee’s knowledge or use of fall protection systems that indicate the employee has not retained the requisite understanding or skill.

Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout)

The sixth most frequently cited standard according to the preliminary data is 29 CFR 1910.147, or Control of Hazardous Energy. This standard, which helps to set the general requirements for lockout/tagout, saw 1,698 violations in 2021, according to Kapust. During the presentation, he said that the industries in which OSHA reported the most violations were manufacturing plants that produced fabricated products, plastic products and food.

Kapust said that OSHA was finding that manufacturing plants were not adequately training their workforce in lockout/tagout (LOTO), properly implementing LOTO devices or periodically inspecting their LOTO devices. Kapust also mentioned that many companies were cited for lacking any semblance of a hazardous energy control program. In the standard, OSHA requires employers to establish a program consisting of energy control procedures, employee training and periodic inspections to ensure that energy to machinery is properly shut off before a worker attempts to perform maintenance. Here’s the key essentials to any LOTO program:

Machine-Specific Procedures. Lockout programs should list each machine under it’s program and detail the steps needed to shut down, isolate, block and secure equipment. This machine-specific procedure should also include steps to replace, remove and transfer lockout/tagout devices.

Training & Audits. Based on the preliminary data from Kapust, training seems to be one of the reasons why many companies end up getting cited under 1910.147. Training should include OSHA requirements, along with specific program elements and machine-specific procedures. Employees should be trained based on three categories:

  1. Authorized employees who perform the lockout on machinery and equipment for maintenance
  2. Affected employees who do not perform lockout requirements but use the machinery that is receiving maintenance
  3. Other employees who do not use the machinery but are in the area in which a piece of equipment is receiving maintenance

Lockout/Tagout Devices. It is of the utmost importance that you use proper lockout devices to keep employees safe. There are a wide variety of products available to fit machinery, switches, pipes, circuit breaker switches, fuse boxes and more. Be sure to spend time finding the right devices for the machinery under your program.

Hazard Communication

Turning the corner now to the top five most cited standards for fiscal year 2021. At number five, we have the Hazard Communication Standard, general requirements (29 CFR 1910. 1200.) The preliminary data shows there were 1,947 violations, which is quite the decrease from the amount in fiscal year 2020 when the standard was number two overall in the list with 3,199 violations.

According to Kapust, employers really struggled with some of the key components of the standard which include having a written Hazard Communication program, providing key information in employee training, having safety data sheets (SDS) readily available or having all pertinent information on the SDSs. According to the standard, employers should obtain or develop a safety data sheet for each hazardous chemical they produce or import. Employers need to have a safety data sheet in the workplace for each hazardous chemical that they use as well. Under the standard, each SDS should have the following section numbers and headings as well as the associated information under each heading:

  • Section 1, Identification
  • Section 2, Hazard(s) identification
  • Section 3, Composition/information on ingredients
  • Section 4, First-aid measures
  • Section 5, Fire-fighting measures
  • Section 6, Accidental release measures
  • Section 7, Handling and storage
  • Section 8, Exposure controls/personal protection
  • Section 9, Physical and chemical properties
  • Section 10, Stability and reactivity
  • Section 11, Toxicological information
  • Section 12, Ecological information
  • Section 13, Disposal consideration
  • Section 14, Transport information
  • Section 15, Regulatory information
  • Section 16, Other information, including date of preparation or last revision

You can find more information about the SDS sections and associated information under Appendix D.


Coming in at number four in the list is Scaffolding, general requirements (29 CFR 1926.451). This standard held steady at number four in comparison to the fiscal year before. The preliminary data shows that there were 1,948 violations in fiscal year 2021, which is a bit of a decline from 2020 which shows 2,538 violations recorded during that fiscal year.

For this construction standard, Kapust said OSHA was finding that employers were not providing proper fall protection for their employees, did not secure scaffolds from tipping and, in certain locations, platforms were not fully planked or decked. OSHA was also finding that employers were not installing guardrails as a means of fall protection for workers. These issues were most commonly found with masonry contractors, framing contractors and roofing contractors.

According to the standard, employers must provide fall protection for each employee on a scaffold more than 10 feet above a lover level. When it comes to understanding the types of fall protection necessary, OSHA has provided a Fact Sheet, which includes the following table:

Type of Scaffold

Fall Protection Required

Aerial lifts

Personal fall arrest system

Ladder jack scaffold

Personal fall arrest system

Catenary scaffold

Personal fall arrest system

Single-point & two-point suspension scaffolds

Personal fall arrest systemanda guardrail system

Crawling board (chicken ladder)

Personal fall arrest systemora guardrail systemorby a ¾ inch diameter grabline or equivalent handhold securely fastened beside each crawling board

The table above only includes a sample of the information found on the OSHA Fact Sheet.

Stairways and Ladders

Finally, now on to the top three most cited standards in fiscal year 2021. Ladders (29 CFR 1926.1053) is one of two construction industry specific standards in the top three of OSHA’s Top 10 list. This standard saw 2,026 violations in fiscal year 2021 and jumped up two spots from number five in the list from fiscal year 2020 when OSHA reported 2,129 violations.

During the presentation, Kapust explained that there were several reasons for the increase in violations as OSHA reported seeing the following at the jobsites of roofing contractors, framing contractors, siding contractors, single-family housing construction and residential remodeling contractors:

  • Ladders were not being used for the purpose of their design
  • Employees were using the top step of the ladder
  • Ladders were being used on unstable or unlevel ground
  • Employees were ascending ladders while carrying objects or large loads

According to the standard, there are some very strict rules an employer must implement when using ladders at your jobsite. Many of the key components safe ladder use are highlighted in the preliminary data from Kapust. In order to ensure safe ladder use at your jobsite, be sure to properly train workers on what proper use of a ladder looks like. Employers should provide training by a competent person and should include topics such as: finding the right ladder for the job, how to inspect ladders before use, maintaining three points of contact at all times, ensuring proper set up and how to set up non-self-supporting ladders at the proper angle before ascending.

There are a few large mistakes that workers can make when using a ladder. Employers should ensure that employees are not standing on the top step or rung of the ladder unless the label states that it is safe to do so (most don’t). Workers should also not lean away from the ladder or overreach in any direction, as this can throw of the weight centered between the vertical rails and lead to tipping or falling. Another large mistake workers tend to make is placing the ladder on uneven ground or another object to reach a higher point. If their ladder is not tall enough for a worker to safely worker, then workers should be trained to get another ladder or find another means of safely reaching the work area.

Respiratory Protection

Moving up to number two for fiscal year 2021 is Respiratory Protection (29 CFR 1910.134), the only general industry standard to make it into the top three. It should not shock most to find this standard sitting close to the top of the Top 10 list given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The standard saw 2,527 violations in fiscal year 2021, which is actually a small decline from the year prior when it the violation count was up to 2,649.

According to Kapust, most of the 1910.134 violations were due to the COVID-19 pandemic. OSHA found that employers were not completing medical evaluations prior to handing out respirators. It is important to ensure that employees are physically capable of wearing the respirator before providing the PPE, as for some, the respirator could introduce more hazards than it is protecting the worker from. Kapust also said that employers were failing to conduct fit testing prior to use of respirators. If employees are going to be wearing respirators to protect themselves from COVID-19 or other particles, they must ensure that they are wearing the respirator properly. If the respirator does not fully conform to the wearer’s face, then it cannot effectively protect them.

Another violation that OSHA regularly found what the failure to provide a written respiratory program or properly train employees on appropriate use of the respirator. Without this information and training, OSHA found that employees did not have adequate knowledge on how to safely work with their respirator on.

Different than other standards listed in the OSHA Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards list, Respiratory Protection is the only standard to have found the majority of its violations in healthcare facilities such as medical and surgical hospitals, nursing care facilities and assisted living facilities for the elderly.

Fall Protection, General Requirements

For those familiar with OSHA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards list, you will not be surprised to see Fall Protection-Training Requirements (29 CFR 1926.501) at number one. This construction standard has dominated the top spot for 11 years and has over double the number of violations for the standard that sits directly below it at number two. The preliminary data shows that OSHA reported 5,295 violations for this standard in 2021. This is a slight decline from fiscal year 2020 when the standard saw 5,424 violations.

According to Kapust, work on roofs resulted in the largest number of violations for this standard in fiscal year 2021. OSHA reported that employers were allowing roofing work on low slope and steep roofs without fall protection. Other reasons for violations included a general lack of fall protection at residential construction sites and work on unprotected edges without fall protection. In an overview from OSHA, employers must prevent employees from being injured from falls. The following are recommended ways to do this:

  • Guard every floor hole into which a worker can accidentally walk (using a railing and toe-board or a floor hole cover).
  • Provide a guard rail and toe-board around every elevated open sided platform, floor or runway.
  • Regardless of height, if a worker can fall into or onto dangerous machines or equipment (such as a vat of acid or a conveyor belt) employers must provide guardrails and toe-boards to prevent workers from falling and getting injured.
  • Other means of fall protection that may be required on certain jobs include safety harness and line, safety nets, stair railings and hand rails.

OSHA requires employers to:

  • Provide working conditions that are free of known dangers.
  • Keep floors in work areas in a clean and, so far as possible, a dry condition.
  • Select and provide required personal protective equipment at no cost to workers.
  • Train workers about job hazards in a language that they can understand.

COVID-19 Considerations

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to OSHA in February 2021, increased worksite complaints and reduced OSHA inspections left U.S. worker at an increased risk for unsafe work. The report said that since the start of the pandemic, OSHA has received a sudden influx of complaints and as a means of reducing person-to-person contact, has reduced the number of inspections, particularly onsite inspections. Compared to a similar period in 2019, OSHA received 15 percent more complaints in 2020, but performed 50 percent fewer inspections.

With most OSHA inspections done remotely during the pandemic, workplace hazards may have gone unidentified or unabated longer. According to the report, OSHA’s onsite presence during inspections has, “historically resulted in timely mitigation efforts for at least a portion of the hazards identified.” The OIG said that a 2017 report found that for approximately one third of OSHA-issued citations reviewed, employers abated the hazard during the inspection or within 24 hours of OSHA identifying the hazard.

The change in operations coupled with the increase in workplace complaints could have led to a very different OSHA Top 10 list than we are generally used to seeing. For instance, the overall number of violations listed in the top 10 list in fiscal year 2021 only amounts to 21,092—the lowest number in at least five years. While OH&S would love to report that this number has declined because workplaces are safer, it is more likely that less inspections took place in fiscal year 2021, leading to less violations reported.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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