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Top 10 OSHA Violations of 2020

Written by Staff Writer

Top 10 OSHA Violations of 2020

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 5,333 workers died of on-the-job injuries in 2019. In addition, the BLS's 2019 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries found that deaths in the private construction industry increased by 5 percent from the year before — the highest number of annual fatalities since 2007.

OSHA recently unveiled its list of the top 10 OSHA violations of fiscal year 2020, which provides additional insight into common safety violations that can cause injuries and deaths in construction and general industry jobs.

The most frequently cited OSHA standard violations in FY 2020 were:

  1. Fall Protection (5,424 violations)
  2. Hazard Communication (3,199 violations)
  3. Respiratory Protection (2,649 violations)
  4. Scaffolding (2,538 violations)
  5. Ladders (2,129 violations)
  6. Control of Hazardous Energy (2,065 violations)
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1,932 violations)
  8. Fall Protection Training (1,621 violations)
  9. Eye and Face Protection (1,369 violations)
  10. Machinery and Machine Guarding (1,313 violations)

These statistics from BLS and OSHA should encourage all workers and employers to invest in high-quality workplace safety training. One of the most effective ways to prevent on-the-job injuries is to ensure that all workers complete OSHA training.

Taking an online 10-hour OSHA course — which is available in industry-specific versions for construction or general industry — is a convenient and effective way for workers to learn about common hazards and safety violations that can cause serious harm or death.

Each year, OSHA releases data on its most commonly cited OSHA violations in an effort to raise awareness of top hazards and to prevent injuries and deaths that can occur when workers do not follow OSHA safety and health standards.

The top 10 OSHA violations of 2020 are evenly split between construction and general industry violations. The most frequently cited OSHA violations have historically remained the same each year, with changes to their relative positions being more common than drastic changes to the violations on the list.

Read on for a breakdown of the top 10 OSHA violations of 2020 and some practical safety tips workers should follow to avoid violations.

1. Fall Protection

Fall Protection was the most commonly cited OSHA violation of 2020 — and it's been the No. 1 violation for the past 10 years. A lack of fall protection and proper training contributes to dangerous falls, the leading cause of death in the construction industry.

OSHA's Fall Protection standard outlines a variety of potential violations, including using the wrong type of fall protection and failing to use or properly install safety mechanisms to protect workers at height.

To prevent potentially fatal falls, you should always use fall protection while working six feet or more above a lower level. It is also critical to regularly inspect all fall protection equipment for signs of wear and tear.

» Learn more about OSHA fall protection safety guidelines

2. Hazard Communication

Companies that use or store hazardous chemicals are required to effectively communicate the health and safety risks of those chemicals to workers. To avoid injuries related to hazard communication errors, all chemicals should be labeled with clear signage, along with instructions on how to respond in the event of an emergency.

In 2012, OSHA updated its hazard communication standard with revised criteria for chemical labels and a standardized format for safety data sheets. To prevent injuries, it is critical for employers to properly label hazardous chemicals and train workers to recognize and understand labels and safety data sheets.

» Learn more about OSHA hazard communication safety guidelines

3. Respiratory Protection

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of employers were cited for failing to implement respiratory protection programs or provide appropriate PPE for workers. As a result, respiratory protection violations landed among the top 3 OSHA violations for 2020. In 2019, respiratory protection ranked No. 5 on OSHA's list of top violations.

According to OSHA's Respiratory Protection standard, respiratory problems can occur when workers breathe air contaminants found in dust, gas, smoke, fog, fumes, sprays or vapors. To prevent these respiratory violations and related injuries, employers must provide safe ventilation and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job.

» Learn more about OSHA's respiratory protection safety guidelines

4. Scaffolding

When construction employers fail to implement correct procedures for the design, installation and loading of scaffolding, they risk receiving an OSHA citation. These failures endanger those working at a height and could lead to struck-by falling object injuries.

According to OSHA, an estimated 65 percent of workers in the construction industry work on scaffolds. By following the guidelines of OSHA's Scaffolding standard, employers can help prevent some of the 4,500 injuries and more than 60 deaths attributed to scaffold-related accidents each year.

» Learn more about OSHA scaffolding safety guidelines

5. Ladders

Ladder violations in the construction industry typically result from a lack of proper safety training or using the wrong type of ladder for the given situation. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fact sheet, nearly 60 percent of all deaths involving ladders occur in the construction industry.

OSHA's Ladders standard highlights numerous ways to stay safe when using a ladder and remain OSHA compliant. This includes not exceeding the ladder's maximum intended load, keeping areas around the top and bottom of the ladder clear and not using ladders on slippery surfaces without proper safeguards.

» Learn more about OSHA ladder safety guidelines

6. Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout)

Control of hazardous energy, also known as lockout/tagout (LOTO), refers to important safety precautions that workers must take to prevent injuries from hazardous energy stored within machinery.

Electrocution is a Focus Four Hazard, OSHA's term for the top four hazards in construction. OSHA reports that about 9 percent of construction worker deaths are caused by electrocution. These incidents often result from a failure to control hazardous energy during equipment maintenance and servicing.

It is the employer's responsibility to protect workers from hazardous energy, which can cause electrocution, burns, fractures and other injuries. According to OSHA's Control of Hazardous Energy standard, all equipment must be discharged of energy or equipped with a lockout/tagout device in order to remain compliant.

» Learn more about OSHA hazardous energy safety guidelines

7. Powered Industrial Trucks

Examples of powered industrial trucks include forklifts, tractors and platform lift trucks. These vehicles should only be used for their designed purpose and must be maintained regularly. According to OSHA's Powered Industrial Trucks standard, only trained operators are permitted to drive these vehicles.

Workers should be trained on proper safety procedures when operating powered industrial trucks. Important topics include hazard recognition and cellphone prohibition during use.

» Learn more about OSHA's powered industrial truck safety guidelines

8. Fall Protection Training

While lack of fall protection is the most common OSHA violation of 2020, fall protection training fell short as well. Employers are responsible for ensuring that workers know when fall protection is required, how to use it properly and how to inspect equipment to confirm it is safe and in compliance.

According to OSHA's standard on training requirements for fall protection, all employees who may be exposed to fall hazards on the job are required to undergo training. This training should prepare workers to recognize and reduce fall hazards. It should also cover procedures for erecting, maintaining, disassembling and inspecting fall protection systems.

It is the employer's responsibility to keep a log of all employees who have completed fall protection training, including their signature and date of training completion.

» Learn more about OSHA's fall protection training guidelines

9. Eye and Face Protection

Every year, thousands of workers are blinded by preventable eye injuries. OSHA's Eye and Face Protection standard explains safety guidelines that protect workers from eye injuries related to flying debris, chemical exposure, harmful gases and hazardous particles in the environment.

Employers are required to provide appropriate PPE that protects workers from eye and face injuries. Protective equipment may include guards and controls on machines, welding curtains, goggles and face shields. Employers should also provide an accessible eyewash station and training on how to use it.

» Learn more about OSHA eye and face protection safety guidelines

10.Machinery and Machine Guarding

Employees should be trained to use hazardous machines properly. They should understand a machine's points of operation, exercise caution around any rotating or moving parts and use PPE and machine guarding to protect themselves from hazards while operating machinery.

According to OSHA's Machine Guarding standard, moving machine parts can cause severe workplace injuries. Safeguards play a critical role in protecting workers from preventable injuries. To prevent these accidents, any machine part, function or process that may cause injury must be safeguarded.

» Learn more about OSHA's machine guarding safety guidelines

Avoiding OSHA Violations and On-the-Job Accidents

In most cases, OSHA violations and workplace injuries are easily avoided. The importance of proper safety training cannot be understated. To learn more about workplace safety and best practices for entry-level workers, consider taking a 10-hour OSHA Outreach course relevant to your industry. Supervisors and workers with safety responsibilities should take a 30-hour OSHA Outreach course to gain deeper knowledge of common workplace hazards.


Burdick, G. (2021, March 9). OSHA Reveals Top 10 Most Cited Violations for FY 2020. Retrieved from

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020, December 16). National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2019. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, November). Prevent Construction Falls from Roofs, Ladders, and Scaffolds. Retrieved from

OSHA. (2021). Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards. Retrieved from