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OSHA Employees Share The Biggest Violations They've Seen In The Workplace

"It didn't seem like an big deal at the time."

OSHA Employees Share The Biggest Violations They've Seen In The Workplace

Workplace safety is no joke. Injuries on the job can lead to lawsuits and months of headaches. Last thing any shift supervisor wants to see when they arrive at 5 in the morning is the "Days Without Incident" poster reset to 0. That's what OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and other safety organizations are for. They keep people safe and those poster days up. Sometimes, though, a day at work doesn't always go completely safe.

Reddit user, u/KrazyKingZ, wanted to hear from OSHA people firsthand about the dumbest thing they've seen when they asked:

OSHA employees of Reddit, what is the biggest safety violation you have seen in a workplace?

Electric Coats

I interned at OSHA. I got to ride around with a former electrical union superintendent and I'm still telling stories. As an intern they honestly let me ask anything. The inspectors were so glad that someone actually respected them and wanted to learn so they just spilled.

Personally the worst was a couple dozen guys hung their coats up to cover the hot commercial electrical box they had pig tailed their broken radio directly to. The OSHA inspector saw it and just turned to them and said "do you have a family? Do you ever want to see them again?" Turned out the crew chief had a brand new baby girl at home. He basically cried his face off about how stupid they were and shut it down until they could make it safer. No fines were issued. Even though it could've bankrupted all 3 companies on site. Just real talk.

In case you didn't know that amount of electricity would kill you in the worst way (unable to let go and feeling every single shock) and leave you a pile of dust.


Eh, We'll Fix It Later

In college I took an OSHA certification course and my instructor, who was an OSHA inspector, shared this story;

My instructor was inspecting a lumber mill in northern Maine, walking around the facility. Employees told him to be careful around two large milling machines in the back of the mill. Every 10 seconds, like clockwork, a giant high voltage charge would jump between both machines, arcing over the walkway path. Apparently all of the employees knew about it and just carefully timed when they would walk through.

That, he said, was the most glaringly obvious violation he's ever seen, ever.


So Long As It's Dry, Right?

Using a wet-dry vac to clear a plugged drain.

In a lead-acid battery pit.

Without the benefit of any PPE at all.


A Story Of Catastrophe

I work in pharmaceutical manufacturing, and we occasionally get OSHA investigators to give safety trainings. One trainer/rep in particular had been assigned to a case in Texas where a natural gas refinery exploded because a perfect storm of miscommunication, failed safety checks, and employees not following their SOPs. Opaque sight glass (that needs to be clear to detect levels), pressure gauges out of calibration, broken overfill alarms, among other safety violations.


The Things You Do When You Think You're Not Being Watched

I do EHS and watched a bunch of guys using a forklift to literally lift an entire box truck over a fence instead of just pushing it through the gate.

They thought I was at lunch. I was not.


It'll Hold.Trust Me.

Not an OSHA employee, but in HVAC. Once saw a foreman tie a rope around a 100lb gooseneck elbow, secure the rope with a pair of vice grips and then pull it up about 40-50 meters onto the roof of a building.


When Your Bro Doesn't Have Your Back

I work in a CSO and had to clean out one of our vortexes manually. It's a confined space so I needed an attendant. After about an hour I finished and came out to find nobody was around. Walked up to the office and two of our guys were asking where I'd gone, because my attendant went to take a sh-t 45 minutes before and was playing on his phone in the office. He said he told me to come out and figured I was f-cking off somewhere. Should of lost his job then


Buses On The Run

I don't work for OSHA but I do work in a role where ensuring compliance with Workplace Health and Safety and arbitrating on those matters were a major portion of my role.

The worst issue I have ever seen has been a bus operator (for a major metropolitan area) direct their employees to drive buses which due to the inclusion of a new safety barrier did not possess a line of sight to the Left-hand side mirror ( This is in a Left-Hand side driving Country). I filed a dispute, and after some argument, approximately three weeks of it, they came to the conclusion that there was a problem and made the right decision to withdraw them and install a new less obstructed panel. Through this period the operator was threatening to take disciplinary actions against drivers who refused to drive these buses, drivers who couldn't see the mirrors and posed a huge risk to the public.


Skateboards Aren't Safe

I work in construction, and when on site, I heard our OHS person had to leave to write up a violation.

Someone decided to send one of the young blokes down a drain pipe on a skateboard to clear a blockage on a pipe. The line was 80m long, and a 450mm dia pipe. It was also storm season.

Apparently they used the skateboard so if he passed out, they could pull him back, or words to that affect.


How Did This Place Not Close Already?

My father was a safety coordinator at Kennecott Copper Mine and... Boy... I'll go in order of severity:

First, there were times that he caught the crew out by the woods trying to feed apples to the deer. They had skewered the apples and were trying to reach as far over the fences as they could to coax them just a bit closer. Nobody fired.

Next, he found some guys trying to break this gigantic bolt. He came across them right at the time that one was standing under this giant wrench to hold it in place while another guy was climbing up onto some equipment and planned to jump onto the wrench. Genius, I know. Two guys got fired that day.

Then comes the story about the acid vat... During a shut down, he came across some guys playing "Jack Be Nimble" with the opening of the acid vat. Needless to say, these vats, designed to process ores, were extremely dangerous. My father came across them doing this as one guy jumped and lost his shoe in the vat. Instantly disintegrated. About eight guys got fired that day, and the one had the balls to ask for a replacement for his shoe! Probably why my dad has high blood pressure nowadays.

There are more, but those ones stood out the most in my mind.


Sour Experience

International Gas Plants, construction and operations:

-Once my idiot Chinese customers decided to ignore a massive leak in a sour gas line, that was like 200,000 ppm of H2S. I was infuriated and fled site, and only then were they willing to shut it down. Waiting to kill off the control room and poison the nearby town. This was by far the most dangerous thing I've seen.

-Confined space entry without an attendant. Yea that was stttuuupid. And of course this is the time it catches on fire. Luckily were able to escape.

-Hey lets dump sour water into an open drain = slowly forming cloud of poison gas.

-Online unplugging: In one case this guy waits for the bottom of a vessel to plug. He has a drain the same diameter as the vessel discharge pipe. SO when it plug he blocks off the discharge valves, opens the drain, and eventually the pressure builds up and a hunk of solids flies out from a 300 psi source.... followed by a corrosive solvent which they'll quickly block but not before getting it all over their boots


I was in the receiving end of an ice plug that blocked a vent valve while we were pressure testing some pipe. It released with enough force to tear apart the metal pail we had hanging on the valve to catch what should have been a couple cups of fluid. I got showered head to toe with methanol. Ended up totally fine.


Importance Of Grounding

A 19 yo employee was cleaning out a silo with a vac-truck and got fatally electrocuted. There was enough static generated from the friction between the air and the wall of a 100ft hose to stop his heart. All because the other operator said he didn't need to ground the hose because he'd "done this a hundred times"

Another time for a hydroelectric power plant, some guy had literally gotten cooked with a ton of voltage when someone forgot to lockout/tagout something. My friend said will never forget the smell of burning flesh.


Not an OSHA employee, truck driver instead. I don't see a lot of big rigs violating the safety laws since we get in huge trouble if we do, but I see stuff on dualie pickups and box trucks all of the time.

Last week, I saw a pickup with mattresses stacked almost as high as my trailer (~13'6") It reminded me of this one time when I saw the front end of a Mustang completely smashed in from a mattress that had fallen on it, on the freeway.


It's terrifying how some people load their pickup trucks. I once saw an uncut 4'x8' sheet of heavy (like 3/4") plywood fly out of the back of a truck on the Dumbarton Bridge going over the San Francisco Bay. The guy was going 70mph, and I had to swerve big time to avoid getting hit, nearly going over the side. I see loose steel pipes all the time too, reminds of the opening scene from The Descent...


Crushing News

Owens Corning had a company wide stand-down that affected all their plants. The issue? Someone had disabled an interlock that prevented the door to a caged in area for an automated robotic portion of the production system. A worker was crushed. Cleaning agents were stowed in the area and it seemed to have been used as stowage for a long time.

I was part of an engineering team that was modernizing the system at the time this occurred about 15 years ago. Same company also had a tornado response of going outside in the even of a tornado warning. The muster area was also where millions of squares of shingles were stowed. There was perfectly adequate "building inside a building" called the restrooms and showers.

Yeah, that pace was unreal.

Employee Revenge 

My first job was for a large grocery chain and the store's huge walk-in freezer wouldn't defrost. It was covered in sheets of ice and wasn't getting fixed. When I ate shit hard in there one day, twisting my arm and smacking my face, I marched my overly confident teen self over to the store manager and told him, as if he didn't already know, that the freezer floor was covered in ice and that I had fallen and hurt myself. He replied, verbatim, "Yeah! Haha! It's like an ice skating rink in there!" And then he walked away.

Which it was. Which was dangerous. So I filed a complaint with OSHA and investigators showed up THE VERY NEXT DAY. The store had to finally fix the freezer and no one else got hurt in there.


Cartoon Nightmare

I worked for the USAF, and I usually made people run safety equipment, like eye washes, rather than relying on the inspection cards not being pencil whipped....

One time (in Texas), they hit the foot handle for an eye wash and water trickled out then a swarm of fire ants came out with the water. I couldn't even get angry and their pencil whipping the inspection card because all I could think of was some poor bastard getting degreaser in his eyes and running to the eyewash.... to get his face full of fire ants. It was literally the scene from a cartoon waiting to happen.