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OSHA citations vs. violations and recordable vs. reportable explained

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OSHA Fines Reportables and Recordables

Around April of each year, OSHA releases a list of their top ten most common violations from their past fiscal year. From October 2019 to September 30, 2020—which includes the brunt of the pandemic—the list of violations was similar to prior years:

  1. Fall protection (construction)
  2. Hazard Communication Standard (general industry)
  3. Respiratory protection (general industry)
  4. Scaffolding (general requirements, construction)
  5. Ladders (construction)
  6. Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout, general industry)
  7. Powered industrial trucks (general industry)
  8. Fall protection (training requirements)
  9. Eye and face protection
  10. Machinery and machine guarding (general requirements)

Perhaps unsurprisingly due to COVID-19, respiratory protection moved from fifth in 2019 to third in 2020. 

What’s the difference between an OSHA citation and a violation?

Leading up to these and other violations are citations. Similar to a parking ticket or other moving violation, citations can come in the form of warnings with little or no financial penalty. A ladder violation—such as having one with 13 inches of clearance between rungs and not 12 inches—may warrant a citation with a date to have the situation resolved.

Citations become violations once an employer has failed to remedy the situation. And like a police officer’s discretion depending on the severity of a moving violation, OSHA can decide whether to force a fine or not.

OSHA violations come in six broad types

  1. Serious violations, usually when life is threatened and employees are at extreme or known risk. Fines can be in excess of $13,653 for each individual violation per day. Having a workplace assessment, such as VPC Safety Check, is guaranteed to be a more cost-effective way of reducing risk and violations.

    Serious violations are most often fall hazards—either of humans from up high or objects that could hit humans on the way down. Penalties range from the height of the danger and are called “gravity-based OSHA penalties”.
  2. Other-than-serious violations are violations that don’t result in injury or death but can still compromise health. OSHA has a lot of leeway in whether to assess a violation or citation and can waive fines up to 95% from the $13,653 rate.

    Minimal-only severity violations also get included here. These usually only come with a warning but fines start at $1,000.
  3. Willful or repeated violations occur usually when a violation is repeated within three years. Penalties ratchet up to $136,532 per violation. Willful violations are what they sound like: a violation done almost on purpose and with no resolution attempted and thus have the severest consequences.

    Violations for willful OSHA penalties are determined based on the employee headcount.
    10 or fewer: 80% reduction
    11-20: 60% reduction
    21-30: 50% reduction
    31-40: 40% reduction
    41-50: 30% reduction
    51-100: 20% reduction
    101-250: 10% reduction
    251 or more: 0% reduction
  4. Posting requirement violations happen when you don’t post OSHA-required violation notices near an incident area.
  5. Failure to abate violations are a failure to adequately respond and rectify a safety violation you’ve been warned about.
  6. De Minimus violations, like our ladder example with 13” between rungs and not 12”, occur for the smallest violation types. These usually don’t come with penalties, but come with a verbal warning and a note placed in a safety file. This can come up again to haunt your business if you have bigger problems later.

Most penalties are a “per day” violation, which can rack up to serious losses.

What are recordable vs reportable incidents? 

In addition to various safety checks and measures, OSHA is also looking for you to self-report workplace injuries, spills, and other incidents. These fall into two categories. The first are reportable incidents, which are usually severe. Second are recordable incidents, which are less severe but no less dangerous.

Reportable incidents include:

  1. Accidents that require in-patient hospitalization
  2. Amputations
  3. Heart attacks that happen while on-the-job
  4. Death

All four of these reportable incidents must be reported within a day, except death which requires eight hours notice. Ultimately, these reporting measures help OSHA determine which employers have repeated violations or are developing a pattern.

Recordable incidents include:

  1. Any cancer or disease diagnosis that happens as a result of the employee’s work.
  2. Any work-related injury to eardrums, fractured bones, or cracked teeth.
  3. Any time medical treatment is required beyond first aid.
  4. Any time an employee loses consciousness or has an injury that takes them away from the work or restricts them to another job.
  5. Any work-related death.

If you’re ever unsure whether to report something to OSHA, you should call and ask. There are some kinds of incidents that are not reportable or recordable:

  • Injuries to the general public
  • Most issues in parking lots
  • Non-work related mental illness
  • Colds and flu
  • Issues caused by personal meals, such as choking
  • Injuries related to acts of God, such as an earthquake or tornado

Other FAQs related to OSHA reporting and incidents

VPC staff have experience spotting issues most people walk past every day, such as fire code violations from incorrect doors or ceiling tile.

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