OSHA uses the General Duty Clause (GDC) when an inspector identifies a hazard, but no specific regulation covers the issue. We don’t know exactly which hazards OSHA most commonly cites using the GDC, but OSHA does publish the number of GDC citations by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes. The industries most frequently cited (and their NAICS codes) include:
From OSHA press releases, we also know which hazards get cited regularly. Further, a number of OSHA’s emphasis programs focus on ergonomics, heat stress, and powered industrial trucks. By reviewing the industries cited and comparing to the emphasis areas, we can extrapolate the most common GDC citations. In no particular order, they include:
Other GDC citations involve combustible dust, workplace violence, storing incompatible chemicals, and even using a cell phone while driving.
To issue a GDC citation, OSHA must identify a recognized hazard that was likely to cause death or serious harm, and that has a feasible means of correction. To show that a hazard was recognizable, OSHA may review injury records, question employees, review equipment operator manuals, or cite industry consensus standards.
For example, workers might handle heavy items or perform physically demanding tasks in warm environments, and the employer’s 300 Log might include cases of heat stress or repetitive motion injuries. Alternatively, employees might report previous heat stress or ergonomic issues to the OSHA inspector. This helps OSHA show that a hazard was recognized.
As another example, not wearing a seatbelt while operating a forklift could result in serious injury or death. OSHA’s regulation on powered industrial trucks doesn’t mention seatbelts, but if the forklift operator manual says to use the seatbelt, OSHA can use the manual to show a recognized hazard. In fact, 1910.178 requires that operator training include “Any other operating instructions, warnings, or precautions listed in the operator’s manual.”
Operating manuals for machines or equipment often recommend routine maintenance. If the employer’s failure to perform that maintenance could cause worker injury, OSHA could cite a recognized hazard. Similarly, if damage to storage racks create a hazard, OSHA could cite the General Duty Clause.
Finally, operating manuals usually include warnings and safety information. Some OSHA regulations don’t specifically require training employees to use tools or equipment, but machine operators (much like forklift operators) must be familiar with the instructions, warnings, and precautions for the equipment. If an employee cannot answer an OSHA inspector’s questions about those safety precautions, OSHA might issue a GDC citation.
To identify and address hazards, employers need to evaluate the workplace, examine injury records, and even interview employees about their knowledge and experience. For example, an employee who operated a machine for years might know just enough to complete their assigned tasks but won’t know (or follow) all the precautions and warnings. And some employees might ignore known rules, like always wearing a seat belt.
Conducting self-audits can identify potential OSHA violations, and could also discover hazards that aren’t specifically addressed by OSHA, such as worker failure to follow their training. The Audits feature in the J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE provides numerous ready-to-use checklists to help identify safety concerns. Performing self-audits allows employers to identify and eliminate hazards before anyone gets hurt.