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We’ve come to the final installment in our VelocityEHS Blog Series on OSHA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for 2022, where we’ll discuss number ten on the list, the OSHA Machine Guarding Standard. Don’t let the tenth-place ranking fool you. Machine hazards are severe, often resulting in serious injury, amputation, and even death.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at OSHA’s Machine Guarding Standard, including the most commonly cited provisions of the Standard, key enforcement initiatives and directives you should have on your radar, along with best practices and tools you can use to simplify and strengthen compliance.

OSHA’s Machine Guarding Standard Requirements: A Persistent Compliance Challenge for Employers

In case you missed the list, here’s a quick recap of OSHA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for FY 2023:

  1. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501): 7,271 violations
  2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200): 3,213 violations
  3. Ladders (1926.1053): 2,978 violations
  4. Scaffolding (1926.451): 2,859 violations
  5. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178): 2,561 violations
  6. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147): 2,554 violations
  7. Respiratory Protection (1910.134): 2,481 violations
  8. Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503): 2,112 violations
  9. Personal Protective and Lifesaving Equipment—Eye and Face Protection (1926.102): 2,074 violations
  10. Machine Guarding (1910.212): 1,644 violations

OSHA’s Machine Guarding Standard has consistently ranked among the Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for years, and it’s important to think about why. One potential root cause is the surprising brevity and arguably intentional vagueness of the Machine Guarding Standard. The entire body of text of the Machine Guarding Standard is just 388 words, and that includes the section numbers, and yet it is so critical in protecting workers from machine hazards.

We say the Machine Guarding Standard is intentionally vague because we believe OSHA anticipated the applicability of the Standard to a virtual universe of machine types and configurations used in the industry. Similar to its Control of Hazardous Energy Standard (Lockout/Tagout), the Machine Guarding Standard was written broadly enough to cover as great a variety of machine types and configurations as possible, including those yet to be designed or invented. As a consequence of this vagueness, there continues to be a great deal of confusion among employers as to how to apply the Machine Guarding Standard, and how to ensure compliance. In fact, OSHA has published 152 Letters of Interpretation (LOIs) since the original Standard was published in 1973, with each LOI addressing specific employer questions and concerns regarding the specifics of compliance. Despite this ongoing confusion and the continuing evolution of industrial operations and technologies, OSHA is not formally considering any updates to the Machine Guarding Standard as of its recently published Fall 2023 Regulatory Agenda.

OSHA Machine Guarding Standard Enforcement

As we mentioned in the first installment of our blog series, OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard was, by far, the most frequently cited OSHA Standard in 2023. While it is last on OSHA’s Top 10 List, the OSHA Machine Guarding Standard is certainly not least. If you look at the total numbers of violations cited under the OSHA Machine Guarding Standard relative to others on the Top 10 list, there’s not a great difference among OSHA’s Powered Industrial Trucks, Fall Protection Training Requirements, and Personal Protective and Lifesaving Equipment—Eye and Face Protection Standards, meaning it remains a strong priority for OSHA’s enforcement efforts.  

This is supported by the fact that OSHA is currently pursuing two separate National Emphasis Programs (NEPs) aimed specifically at addressing machine hazards. These include:

OSHA also establishes numerous Regional Emphasis Programs (REPs) across the US, many of which are focused, at least in part, on addressing machine hazards and Machine Guarding Standard enforcement. Examples include:

OSHA’s current NEPs and REPs targeting Machine Guarding Standard compliance and enforcement, span a wide range of industry types, but if we look at the most recent enforcement numbers for FY 2023, we can see that the vast majority of citations (80% of 1,638 total violations in 2023) were given to employers in the manufacturing industries (NAICS 31-33).   

Analyzing OSHA’s Most Cited Machine Guarding Standard Provisions

Of the 1,644 violations cited under OSHA’s Machine Guarding Standard in FY 2023, here are the five most commonly cited provisions of the Standard:  

  1. 1910.212(a)(1): “Types of guarding. One or more methods of machine guarding shall be provided to protect the operator and other employees in the machine area from hazards such as those created by point of operation, ingoing nip points, rotating parts, flying chips and sparks.” –1,089 violations
  2. 1910.212(a)(3): “Point of operation guarding.” –402 violations
  3. 1910.212(a)(2): “General requirements for machine guards. Guards shall be affixed to the machine where possible and secured elsewhere if for any reason attachment to the machine is not possible. The guard shall be such that it does not offer an accident hazard in itself.” –60 violations
  4. 1910.212(b): “Anchoring fixed machinery. Machines designed for a fixed location shall be securely anchored to prevent walking or moving.” –57 violations
  5. 1910.212(a)(4): “Barrels, containers and drums. Revolving drums, barrels and containers shall be guarded by an enclosure that is interlocked with the drive mechanism, so that the barrel, drum or container cannot revolve unless the guard enclosure is in place.” –13 violations

If we look at the numbers, we find that the five most common violations here account for 98% of all violations of OSHA’s Machine Guarding Standard.

The Costs of Non-Compliance

Penalties for violations of OSHA’s Machine Guarding Standard (and all OSHA Standards) can quickly pile up, with a single inspection or workplace injury often resulting in multiple citations. That’s because in addition to OSHA’s continuing focus on machine hazards and strong enforcement of Machine Guarding Standard requirements, OSHA announced earlier this year that it would expand the application of “Instance by Instance” (IBI) citations.

Employers should also be conscious of the fact that federal civil penalties for non-compliance with federal regulations have gone up in 2023…way up. In January, OSHA published their 2023 annual civil penalty adjustments as required under the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015. Under the Act, all federal agencies are required to revise and publish their schedule of civil penalties based on the previous year’s rate of inflation, which is calculated based on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U). 2023 federal civil penalty adjustments are based on a published Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) multiplier of 1.07745.In other words, all federal fines and penalties for non-compliance went up by 7.7%—roughly equal to the average rate of inflation faced by all consumers in the US during 2022.

January 2024 will bring new annual inflation-adjusted penalty increases across OSHA and all federal agencies, and even though rate of inflation in the US has contracted significantly compared to 2022, preliminary CPI figures from the BLS for November 2023 place that number around 3.1%, and the reference point agencies will use to calculate 2024 inflation adjustments will likely be around this amount.

Machine Guarding-Related Injury & Illness Statistics: The Human Costs

The financial penalties for non-compliance with OSHA’s Machine Guarding Standard can certainly damage your business’ bottom line, as well as its reputation in the eyes of customers, partners, investors, and other stakeholders. Sadly, it’s all too easy to overlook the cost to your business’ most important resource…your workers. Great companies focus on protecting the safety and health of their workers and the physical and mental costs of failure to do so, rather than worrying about the regulatory risks and compliance costs of OSHA Machine Guarding Standard violations.

The monetary costs of these injuries are difficult to quantify, but OSHA’s Safety Pays calculator allows us to calculate estimated costs of a wide range of occupational injury and illness types. For example, a simple laceration that can be caused by improper or faulty machine guarding is estimated to have direct costs of $21,872 and indirect costs of $24,059 for a total of $45,931. That’s quite a lot for just a cut, and this estimate does little to account for the ongoing legal and workers’ compensation costs that could arise because of a potential disability and associated injury claims.

Machine Guarding Best Practices

Fortunately, OSHA’s enforcement data and enforcement priorities (vis a vis OSHA’s NEPs and REPs) allow us to see where some of employers’ greatest weaknesses lie and draw some general assumptions about what provisions of the OSHA Machine Guarding Standard employers should focus on to help strengthen the compliance of their own machine guarding programs.

Unlike a lot of other Standards on OSHA’s Top 10 List of Most Frequently Cited Standards, the OSHA Machine Guarding Standard is primarily directed at the design features and specifications of machines and machine guarding devices, and has little to say about training, inspection, or other personnel-related requirements as many other OSHA Standards. In that way, the Machine Guarding Standard is primarily a technical standard. Therefore, verifying that machine hazards are identified and assessed, and that sufficient/compliant machine guarding devices and machine hazard controls are installed are the fundamental basis of compliance.

Fortunately, there are several aspects of your existing safety management system that will be instrumental in performing these machine hazard assessments and control verification tasks. Here are a few to focus on:


You need to establish inspection systems that allow you to identify inspection targets (i.e., machines and machine guarding devices) and schedule periodic and regular inspections for each individual target. This includes:

  • Identifying the assigned/responsible inspector roles and personnel
  • Verifying that inspectors possess the necessary knowledge, training, and qualifications to perform that inspection
  • Developing inspection checklists for each machine/machine guard configuration and being able to integrate OSHA Machine Guarding Standard requirements and other regulatory/design requirements into those checklist criteria
  • The ability to quickly report and respond to checklist discrepancies/non-conformances
  • The ability to create and assign corrective actions for individual checklist discrepancies/non-conformances
  • Visibility of inspection activities and performance to verify inspection programs and procedures are being implemented, and that they are effective

For additional information on inspection program management, check out our on-demand webinar “Beyond Checklists: A Systems-Based Approach to Inspection Program Management.”

Hazard Identification & Observations

Everyone throughout the workplace, especially machine operators, maintenance personnel, supervisors, and safety managers, should possess sufficient knowledge and training to identify machine hazards, and to identify non-compliance of machine guarding devices with OSHA Machine Guarding Standard requirements. They also require rapid, real-time ability to document and report these hazards, and to have visibility into the corrective action planning and implementation process to confirm that hazards are being identified, assessed, and controlled.

And it’s not just about identifying hazards. It’s also about observing employee behaviors, both safe and unsafe. Many machine guarding-related injuries occur because workers bypass functional machine guards so that they can clear the point of operation, perform some sort of quick maintenance or repair, or just to get the job done faster because of pressure from supervisors or managers. That’s never acceptable.

It’s the responsibility of the employer to provide comprehensive work instructions on how to clear jams or resolve other types of maintenance issues safely, and ensure workers are trained and knowledgeable in how to effectively operate machines and machine guarding devices. It’s also the responsibility of workers to remain vigilant and not think of observing unsafe actions or behaviors as “calling out” their co-worker but reporting an unsafe behavior that others might repeat in the future. Though they might get away with it unscathed this time, the next time could result in a life-altering injury. On the flip side of that coin, we also want to be capturing and documenting safe behaviors that help us better understand how to do things safely, and even recognize opportunities for how to be safer.

The key is being able to capture and report these hazards and behaviors and put them on the map so that safety managers and others can learn from them, and that means having a system to document them in real-time where and when they occur.

Task Hazard Assessment (THA)

THA is a type of pre-job inspection designed to evaluate job-specific hazards and ensure appropriate safety precautions, controls, operator training and qualifications, and other preventive measures are in place prior to beginning the job. THA is an invaluable method for machine operators to verify the proper function and design of machine guarding devices and should, ideally, be performed before every work shift to verify this. If they are not in conformance with the THA, operators should be reporting any unrecognized or insufficiently controlled hazards to responsible employees so corrective actions, including installation of sufficient machine guards or repair to existing controls, can be performed.

Also, if an operator identifies a faulty or insufficient machine guarding device, that worker (and all workers) should be clearly delegated with “stop work authority”. This authority strengthens the quality of your workplace safety culture. No worker should feel pressure to continue using a machine with recognized hazards, nor should they feel like they do not have the right to refuse unsafe work.  

Job Safety Analysis (JSA)

A JSA is a comprehensive job evaluation designed to fully assess and control hazards during the job design phase, and periodically thereafter. It involves breaking jobs down into individual tasks or steps and carefully analyzing potential hazards at each step that may be introduced by the tools, equipment, work environments, and work practices used. Once hazards are identified, risks are qualitatively evaluated, prioritized, and corrective actions are taken to manage individual hazards and risks.

You should perform JSAs prior to start-up of any machine in your workplace to clearly identify, assess, and implement effective machine design and hazard controls before work ever begins. The JSA should be readily accessible to operators and other potentially affected employees to provide clear guidance on the hazards of a given job and is also invaluable as a training tool for machine operators. You should periodically and regularly evaluate the JSA to ensure it fully addresses the hazards of the job, especially after you’ve made any alterations or modifications to the machine in question. Also, you should perform JSAs in collaboration with operators, supervisors, maintenance personnel, safety managers, and other impacted employees so you get a full perspective on the hazards presented by a given machine and given job.

For more information on how to optimize your hazard identification practices and programs, task hazard assessments, and JSAs, download our guide Hazard ID & Observation, Task Hazard Assessment (THA), & Job Safety Analysis (JSA).

For additional guidance on OSHA Machine Guarding compliance and safety best practices, check out OSHA’s Machine Guarding eTool.

Final Thoughts…

We hope you’ve enjoyed our VelocityEHS Blog Series on the OSHA Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for 2023 and learned some valuable insights on how to not only improve compliance with OSHA Standards, but more importantly, protect the health and safety of your people. Follow us on LinkedIn and stay tuned to the VelocityEHS blog page for further information on the EHS topics that impact businesses like yours, and to learn how VelocityEHS can help you surpass your compliance challenges and achieve EHS & ESG excellence.

Catch up on all OSHA’s Top 10 List of Most Frequently Cited Standards Blog Series:

  1. Fall Protection—General Requirements
  2. Hazard Communication
  3. Ladders
  4. Scaffolding
  5. Powered Industrial Trucks
  6. Lockout/Tagout
  7. Respiratory Protection
  8. Fall Protection—Training Requirements
  9. Personal Protective and Lifesaving Equipment—Eye and Face Protection
  10. Machine Guarding

Simplify Compliance & Strengthen Workplace Safety with VelocityEHS

The Velocity Safety and Operational Risk Solutions, part of the VelocityEHS Accelerate® Platform, offers EHS professionals full and flexible capabilities to meet every aspect of your safety management system needs. From inspections, Hazard ID & Observations, THAs, JSAs and much, much more, you’ll get a system that provides a rock-solid foundation for your management programs and help you ensure you have a full picture of the machine hazards and controls present in your workplace.

Check us out and Request a Demo today to learn how we can solve your safety management and compliance challenges.