“The human animal differs from the lesser primates in his passion for lists.”  — H. Allen Smith

My first experience with lists was as a child, when I was frequently warned, “If you keep it up, you’re going to end up on Santa’s naughty list.” Now, lists seem inescapable. Shopping lists, checklists, reading lists. And of course, Top 10 lists.

OSHA recently presented a preliminary version of its 2022 Top 10 List of OSHA violations. The final version will come out in December. A look at the OSHA Top 10 isn’t as useful to the process industries as one would like, however. Five of the top ten most frequently cited workplace safety standards are from 29 CFR 1926, Construction. Of the remaining five standards—all for general industry—there are only two that seem specifically relevant to the process industries: Hazard Communication (1910.1200), which is ranked second, and Respiratory Protection (1910.134), which is ranked third.

For safety professionals in the process industries, it would be helpful to have a list of the top ten most frequently cited workplace standards specific to the process industries. Although OSHA hasn’t compiled that list, the information based on industry segments is available. The rankings for NAICS code 32 (process industries) are compiled here.

What Does the Top 10 List Mean?

OSHA and many safety professionals are convinced that being aware of which OSHA standards are most frequently cited will help guide resources to where they are most needed to make the workplace safer. Unfortunately, there is very poor correlation between the standards that are frequently cited and the hazards that actually result in injuries and fatalities, which is discussed in an earlier blog.

The number of citations of a particular standard tell us more about what OSHA inspectors are looking for than what creates hazards in a particular workplace. The easier it is to find and document a violation, the more likely it is that the violation will be cited. And the more workplaces covered by a particular standard, the more opportunities there will be to violate that standard.

But it helps to know what inspectors are looking for. Complying with a standard should lead to a safer workplace, and activities that avoid citations is like picking low-hanging fruit.

Process Industries Top 10 List of OSHA Violations

The process industries received 3,103 citations in FY2022, with an average penalty of $4,292 per citation. That compares to 35,892 citations for all employers, with an average penalty of $4,247 per citation. (No significant difference in penalties despite huge differences in the industry segments.) Altogether, the process industries were cited for violating 65 of the over 200 OSHA general industry standards. The list below is the Top 10 of OSHA standards for which the process industries are cited, ranked by the total number of citations in the process industries, NAICS 32.

  1. 0147, Lockout/Tagout
    439 citations in NAICS 32, $7,018/citation (average)
  2. 0212, Machine Guarding-General requirements
    267 citations in NAICS 32, $6,935/citation (average)
  3. 0178, Powered Industrial Trucks
    228 citations in NAICS 32, $3,237/citation (average)
  4. 1200, Hazard Communication
    218 citations in NAICS 32, $2,269/citation (average)
  5. 0134, Respiratory Protection
    203 citations in NAICS 32, $1,610/citation (average)
  6. 0095, Occupational Noise Exposure
    109 citations in NAICS 32, $3,149/citation (average)
  7. 1053, Toxic and Hazardous Substances-Respirable crystalline silica
    102 citations in NAICS 32, $2,788/citation (average)
  8. 0303, Electrical Safety-General requirements
    98 citations in NAICS 32, $3,023/citation (average)
  9. 0219, Machine Guarding-Power transmission apparatus
    97 citations in NAICS 32, $4,032/citation (average)
  10. 0132, PPE-General requirements
    96 citations in NAICS 32, $3,247/citation (average)

Interestingly, 1910.119, Process Safety Management, does not make the Top 10 List of OSHA Violations for the process industries. Also worth noting is that the Top 5 for the process industries are the same as the five general industry standards that made OSHA’s overall Top 10 list. Perhaps a reflection on how easy it is to find certain violations.

Seriousness of Violations

There is another way to look at violations: by seriousness. In 2022, the maximum penalty for a violation is $14,502/citation. For willful violations and repeat violations, the maximum penalty is 10 times higher: $145,027/citation. However, OSHA rarely fines employers the full amount allowed. They can lower it based on several factors, including the seriousness of the violation. So, rather than ranking violations by the number of citations, it might tell us more about our priorities to rank the citations by average penalty. The list below is the Top 10 of OSHA standards for which the process industries are cited, ranked by the average penalty per citation.

  1. 0252, Welding, Cutting and Brazing-General requirements (including hot work)
    $22,398/citation (average) in NAICS 32 vs. $6,086/citation (average) for all
  2. 0333, Electrical Safety-Selection and use of work practices
    $18,426/citation (average) in NAICS 32 vs. $6,296/citation (average) for all
  3. 0039, Fire Prevention Plans
    $14,502/citation (average) in NAICS 32 vs. $7,251/citation (average) for all
  4. 0120, Hazard Waste Operations and Emergency Response
    $14,502/citation (average) in NAICS 32 vs. $5,800/citation (average) for all
  5. 1000, Toxic and Hazardous Substances-Air contaminants
    $11,184/citation (average) in NAICS 32 vs. $5,269/citation (average) for all
  6. 0216, Mills and Calenders in the Rubber and Plastics Industries
    $10,586/citation (average) in NAICS 32 vs. $11,058/citation (average) for all
  7. 0159, Automatic Sprinkler Systems
    $8,260/citation (average) in NAICS 32 vs. $2,065/citation (average) for all
  8. 0146, Permit-Required Confined Spaces
    $7,169/citation (average) in NAICS 32 vs. $7,040/citation (average) for all
  9. 0179, Overhead and Gantry Cranes
    $7,055/citation (average) in NAICS 32 vs. $4,998/citation (average) for all
  10. 0147, Lockout/Tagout
    $7,018/citation (average) in NAICS 32 vs. $7,305/citation (average) for all

Only one of these standards appeared on the previous list: Lockout/Tagout, 1910.147, although it fell from No. 1 to No. 10. The other nine are new, but warrant even more attention. This is especially true given that the average penalty for process industries is typically well above the average penalty for all employers when considering similar violations.

And still, Process Safety Management doesn’t make the list.

What Is OSHA Looking For

Mary Leaky, the famed British paleoanthropologist, once said, “You only find what you are looking for.” OSHA’s Top 10 lists don’t really tell us where our hazards are. Instead, they tell us what violations OSHA is looking for and how seriously it takes those violations when it finds them. The hazards in your plant that deserve your attention don’t change because of an annual Top 10 list. In the process industries, Process Safety Management, the regulation, and process safety management, the practice, continue to deserve top priority, regardless of where they fall on a list. But be aware of what OSHA is looking for. There is no point in asking for trouble. You don’


  • Mike Schmidt

    With a career in the CPI that began in 1977 with Union Carbide, Mike was profoundly impacted by the 1984 tragedy in Bhopal and has been working on process safety ever since.