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What Is an OSHA Violation?

An OSHA violation occurs when a corporation or employee, whether consciously or unconsciously, overlooks potential or current safety issues. A violation does not always cause an incident; it can also be substantiated during the OSHA inspection process.

Different Types of Violations & OSHA Penalties

There are many different types of OSHA violations, each one is a different level of severity and comes with different penalties. Throughout the following sections we will go into detail about each of the six types of OSHA violations and their penalties.

De Minimis

A de minimis violation of OSHA rules is a technical infringement that has no direct impact on health or safety. It is the least serious type of violation, and inspectors do not issue OSHA citations for it. These violations do not have a monetary penalty either. Inspectors simply notify employers of the violations and record them in the employer's case inspection file.


An other-than-serious violation of OSHA guidelines is one that does not normally result in death or serious injury but is nevertheless connected to job safety or employee health. The maximum penalty for this kind of violation is a $14,502 fine per each violation.


OSHA imposes a serious violation when an employer knows (or should know) of a situation that has a definite likelihood of causing serious damage or death but fails to correct it. OSHA penalties of up to $14,502 must be issued by inspectors for each serious violation.


Willful violations are the most severe violation category, and they are reserved for intentional violations of OSHA Requirements or situations that demonstrate disregard for employee health and safety. The maximum monetary penalty for a willful violation is $145,027. If an employee is killed, the employer could face six months of imprisonment on top of the $145,027.


If an employer is cited for a specific violation and a later inspection reveals another identical or very similar infraction, OSHA inspectors have the authority to cite the employer for a repeated violation. A repeated violation carries a maximum fine of $145,027. However, inspectors cannot consider a repeat violation of the same type if the employer opposes the original violation and is awaiting a final OSHA decision.

Failure to Abate

When an employer receives a violation citation, the citation includes a date by which the employer must remedy the situation. If the employer does not do so on or before the specified date, they may be liable for a fine of $14,502 per day from the day after the specified date until they remedy the condition.

Common Violations

Based on federal OSHA worksite inspections, OSHA releases a list of the top ten most often violated safety regulations each year. For the sake of this article, we will only be going over the top three. According to OSHA, the list is intended to alert employers about these frequently cited regulations so that they can take action to identify and fix safety problems before OSHA arrives. The top three most common OSHA violations are:

Fall Protection

The fall protection standard specifies the working conditions that necessitate fall protection, the methods that are appropriate for certain situations, and the right level of supervision of employees to prevent falls. The standard is intended to protect employees while they are on work platforms or walking surfaces with unprotected edges that are 4 feet or higher above the ground. 

Fall hazard violations are at the top of the list because these hazards are present at so many workplaces, whether through the use of stairways, ladders, scaffolding, unprotected floor holes, wall openings, or any other activity performed on an elevated work surface.

Respiratory Protection

The respiratory protection standards are the second most frequently violated OSHA Requirements. These standards include instructions for developing and maintaining a respiratory protection program, such as respirator selection, worksite-specific procedures, training, and rules for equipment use, cleaning, maintenance, and repair.


The third most common OSHA violation would be the safety standards for ladders. This standard addresses common ladder safety criteria. The majority of violations involved the assembly and use of portable ladders, the application of ladders for uses they were not intended for, standing on the top step, and carrying improper loads on ladders.

Can the Penalty Be Reduced for OSHA Violations?

Inspectors can choose to not levy a fine or decrease the penalty by up to 95% if a citation has not yet been issued. Inspectors decide on penalties based on variables such as the size of the company and the owner's cooperation. They also have the authority to modify penalties based on the severity of each specific offense, as well as the employer's prior history and good faith.

However, if the citation has already been given, then the employer may want to request an informal conference with OSHA and contest the citation. 

If you want to contest the citation, the proposed penalty, and/or the abatement date, you must submit the contestment in writing within 15 days from the date you received the citation. You can also request an informal conference before deciding to contest the citation. There are many advantages of an informal conference. Along with a possible penalty reduction, some other potential outcomes of an informal conference are:

Can I Report Violations in My Workplace?

Not only do employees have the right to report safety violations that are taking place in their workplace, but they also have rights protecting their jobs. This means that their employers cannot legally terminate their employment for submitting a complaint.

How Do I Report Violations?

To report a violation, you will submit your complaint to OSHA online. To do this, you will fill out the complaint form or letter and return it to your local OSHA office through fax, mail, or email. In doing so, OSHA personnel can be available to review your complaint and answer any questions that you may have.

How Can I Avoid Violations?

The best way to avoid violations and citations in the workplace is by meeting your responsibilities whether you are an employer or employee. Both parties have responsibilities that they are required by OSHA to fulfill. The next couple sections will cover the responsibilities for both employers and employees.

Employer Safety Responsibilities

Employers are responsible for providing their employees with a safe and healthful work environment. The best way for employers to do that is by also providing appropriate OSHA Aligned safety certification training as well as any other resources or tools necessary for the safety of the employees. Employers are also responsible for:

Employee Safety Responsibilities

Employees are responsible for actively participating in the safety training they receive. They are also responsible for utilizing the safety tools or resources that were established by their employers. For example, if your employer has provided you with the necessary PPE for your job, your responsibility is to wear the PPE how and when you are required to.