Thought Leadership


OSHA’s “Top Ten” citations: A case of failing to write doable regulations

November 14, 2013
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ISHN Guest BlogThis is the time of year when OSHA announces their top ten citations of the past fiscal year. There are few changes in this top- ten list year after year. Even though the list is of the complete standard’s name, it is usually only one or two sections of a standard that repeatedly makes this list. For example:  HAZCOM written programs and Lockout Tagout annual inspection and written procedures for each LOTO performed.

There are some people, media outlets and safety organizations that celebrate this list every year. I find that reaction to it bizarre. In my view, a portion of a regulation that appears on the top ten list year after year is a regulatory process failure. It means that OSHA failed to write the regulation such that it was doable and sustainable for most work sites.

Sites with no safety staff

In many cases, these sites are those that have no safety staff. That is an estimated 7.3 million sites out of 7.5 million that OSHA says is under OSHA jurisdiction.

Notice that a number of these violations are portions of a standard that are peripheral requirements.  Peripheral means nice things to do but not essential for control of the hazard. In short, they could have been omitted in the OSHA standard.

Thus they imply that that the entire standard that contains them is a regulatory system failure.

OSHA syncophants

OSHA’s response to these failures? They just keep citing them every year—and the OSHA syncophants celebrate them each year.

For example---a written HAZCOM program. Is a written program really a regulatory essential for hazard communication to function to protect personnel?   It has been in the Top Ten Regulatory Failures for decades.

Machine specific LOTO written procedures and the annual review is another example. OSHA has issued three compliance directives for LOTO since it was promulgated in 1988. The last one, in 2008, was 135 pages. Remember that compliance directives are instructions for compliance officers and above but we get to see them. The interpretations for written individual LOTO procedures and the annual review keep getting more convoluted. Apparently, OSHA believes if they just write enough interpretations, that somehow it will eventually become a regulatory success instead of a regulatory failure.

I2P2: Another regulatory failure?

Consider the I2P2 regulation that OSHA says it is considering proposing. I2P2 does not address any particular hazard.  In California’s experience with I2P2, that regulation has been at the top of CAL/OSHA’s top citations list since the regulation was enacted. Even before OSHA formally proposed I2P2, we know that it will be another regulatory failure.

That OSHA would still pursue it is completely predictable. I2P2 is essential for their political agenda of celebration of citations, a flood of shaming press release and the opportunity to gain full government control of safety in the workplace through a continuous flood of interpretations and compliance directives.

Why do safety professionals support I2P2?

My question is why are members of the safety community  being advocates of I2P2?  Do they want to celebrate with OSHA the addition of a new member of the Top Ten OSHA citations list? 

Why would they want sites that have no safety staff to be cited for a regulation that they are simply unable to sustainably comply with?

Why would they want sites that do have safety staffs and safety management systems to be cited with Willful Citations if their sites experience injuries or OSHA standards’ violations? 

Why would they want to empower OSHA to unleash a massive flood of I2P2 interpretations and compliance directives?

The only conceptual rationale for I2P2 that I have heard from these folks is:  “Safety Programs are good and every site ought to have one.”  Under this conceptual rationale, safety program management can be achieved and sustained without safety professionals. All that is needed is a government regulation. In their view, one government regulation can trump 100+ years of safety professionals developing, implementing and support safety management systems.  So that begs the question:  “Why are safety professionals of value?  Why should safety professionals be employed at work sites?  According to the opinion of these I2P2 advocates, work sites, are able to accomplish safety program management just with a government regulation and without us.

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