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Biggest problem areas for workplace safety in 2016

Far too many employers fall short when it comes to ensuring the safety of their workers. Whether due to concerns about costs, misunderstandings of what's required, shortcomings in administrative systems or sheer ignorance, these lapses leave workers facing unnecessary dangers. In many high-risk industries, even a seemingly minor infraction can be a life-or-death matter.

So which safety violations are the most common? According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the following were the most common culprits in 2016:

  • Fall protection: Falls are a leading cause of work-related injuries and deaths, and they're among the "fatal four" biggest dangers in the construction industry. Sure enough, violations were most common in residential construction and roofing. They often involved inadequate use of personal fall arrest systems, unprotected holes or skylights, improper use of ladders and defective ladders.
  • Hazardous substance handling: Construction and industrial work often involves hazardous chemicals. The law requires that these hazards be clearly communicated to workers through safety data sheets, product labeling and adequate training. Violations of these requirements often involved failure to implement a hazard communication program, failure to keep up with training requirements and problems with safety data sheets.
  • Scaffolding: Scaffolding presents a major fall risk - especially if not properly constructed or maintained. Common violations included lack of guardrails, failure to provide a safe means of accessing each scaffolding level and lack of proper plank or decking material on working surfaces.
  • Respirators: Many jobs involve exposure to toxins that could inflict severe and perhaps deadly harm if inhaled. Far too often, employers failed to identify these hazards, failed to establish a respiratory protection program, failed to provide mandatory medical evaluations for exposed workers and failed to ensure a proper respirator fit.
  • Machine guards: Powerful machinery is a significant hazard in the workplace. Usually, safeguards are in place to protect workers from equipment, but sometimes employers fail to keep those safeguards in place (or properly maintain them). Other common violations in 2016 included failing to anchor fixed equipment and leaving blades improperly exposed.
  • Electrical hazards: Whenever work is performed on equipment, lockout/tagout procedures are critical for keeping the equipment disabled and preventing electrical shock. Problems with these procedures were among the most common electrical violations in 2016, as were improper wiring, inadequate working space near electrical hazards, lack of regular safety inspections and inadequate training.

As you can see, any one of these violations could easily put workers' lives on the line. There's simply no excuse when employers fail to comply with the law regarding workplace safety.

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