Safety Audits: 6 Most Common Violations

Posted by
Blake Powers | Safety Specialist
on May 2, 2022

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Everyone in the field of construction knows safety violations are the greatest risk to a site’s productivity, reliability, and viability. When companies invest in safety, they expect to not only see a financial return in the form of lowered insurance and equipment costs, but also an ability to meet deadlines, recruit, and retain talent.

Let’s look at how your organization can get the most out of this process by zeroing in on the most common safety audit findings and bringing a site up to spec.

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Importance of Safety Audits

A safety audit si often referred to as an EHS audit (for Environment, Health, and Safety). It's an in-depth analysis of your company’s practices conducted by a third party. A crucial aspect of an audit is its ability to bypass the hierarchy and politics of your workplace because it is done by an outside source. Most importantly, a thorough look at your company’s practices and training is just the first step. Any errors or blind spots should be followed by a corrective action plan that sets specific criteria for solving the issue. 

While audits are often commissioned by an organization that wants to improve its practices, they can also come as a surprise inspection from OSHA, which can levy fines and penalties for non-compliance. Here are some of the most frequent issues spotted during an OSHA safety audit.

Common Findings of OSHA Safety Audits

An OSHA audit focuses on each individual facet of your workplace. First, management and leadership are analyzed, then worker participation. Hazards are identified and assessed before prevention and control practices. Education, training, and safety programs are evaluated next, then the audit typically ends with a look at communication and coordination between employers, contractors, staffing agencies, and the like. Often, issues are covered by more than one of these areas.

Walking and Working Surfaces

Most often, when OSHA undertakes the hazard identification and assessment section of the audit, they find that there is a lack of adequate fall protection and insufficient or incompetent inspection of system components such as ladders, scaffolding, and railings. These things also fall under the program evaluation and improvement section of the audit, since an auditor is likely to recommend that you undertake immediate remediate training as a correction.

Fire Prevention Planning

When looking at an organization's leadership and management, OSHA often finds issues with fire safety. Two common citations are “failure to maintain or supervise emergency alarm systems” and a failure to provide or update fire prevention plans in response to newly introduced or documented hazards.

OSHA has stringent requirements for fire prevention plans, mandating that organizations with more than 10 employers have a written plan that employees review when they are first hired, listing all major hazards, procedures for handling and storage, maintenance standards, and naming the employee responsible for the control of fuel source hazards.

Personal Protective Equipment and Respiratory Protection

A lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) can cause issues across the entire audit, appearing as a leadership issue (management has not conducted PPE hazard assessments) and a training deficiency (employees use PPE improperly, fail to maintain and test it regularly, or are unaware of when it is required). OSHA’s regulations cover eye and face, respiratory, head, foot, hand, and fall equipment, as well as the testing and cleaning requirements for each.

Electrical/Hand and Portable Powered Tools

When assessing worker participation—the second section of the audit—OSHA often finds fault in their use of tools. Frequent citations include “guards for tools are missing or defective,” “tool retainers are not in place for pneumatic tools,” and “lack of proper grounding for powered tools.”

This is an area where repeated or willful violations are likely to be cited; employers who are already aware of an issue among their staff should clearly communicate their expectations through remedial training, safety notices, and checklists on relevant equipment, encouraging higher levels of accountability.

Related Content: What are the Steps of a Corrective Action Plan? 

Toxic or Hazardous Substances

When checking a workplace’s hazard assessment, OSHA commonly cites employers for a failure to identify and inform workers of asbestos in workplace materials, as well as metals and compounds containing beryllium, chromium, or lead. The methods that OSHA uses to detect these agents are referenced in the organization’s regulations (1910 Subpart Z - Toxic and Hazardous Substances), which outline their testing methods and maximum acceptability standards.

Find Violations Before OSHA Does with a Safety Audit

A safety audit can be a painful process, as it brings to light inefficiencies, errors, and inaction that may have been plaguing your organization for some time. However, it is also a necessary step toward improving your operations. While OSHA does not mandate that you contract with a third party for regular audits, it has come to use tactics like press releases to urge companies to take responsibility for employee safety.

Aside from getting a head start on addressing potentially deadly and costly safety issues, a third-party audit also gives your company a chance to fix problems before an OSHA audit results in fines. Safety consultants can not only help you conduct safety audits—they can help you put a corrective action plan in place that demonstrates to OSHA and your employees that you are dedicated to making your workplace as safe and efficient as possible. 

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Tags: OSHA Inspections, Safety Audits, Corrective Action Plan

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