Safety and Health Article Archive

Using OSHA's General Duty Clause

By David F. Coble, CSP and Michelle Miller Ormond

The General Duty Clause, also known as Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHAct), covers areas of occupational safety and health that are not addressed by a specific standard. It states that the workplace must be free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm, but what does that really mean? How specific does it get? Citations can be issued where there are recognized hazards that could potentially be corrected.

In this article we'll list some of the types of workplace hazards that OSHA has cited under the General Duty Clause. This will give you an idea of the types of things to look at in your own workplace. You may be surprised at the potential hazards you have!

What hazards?

We have compiled a list of hazards that have been cited under the General Duty Clause using the Occupational Safety and Health Reporter from the Bureau of National Affairs, copies of actual citations, oral description of citations, and past experiences as a former OSHA inspector. This list is by no means complete, but is quite extensive. We have omitted items such as confined space entry and lockout/tagout that were once cited under general duty, but now have a standard in effect.

Types of Hazards Cited Under General Duty


  • Obstructed vision of the driver when going in reverse.
  • Exposure to being struck by a dump truck because it did not sound an alarm or similar warning device when operating in reverse.
  • Exposure to the hazard of being run over by a truck.
  • Exposure to crash and impact hazards when employees were required to operate automobiles equipped with handicap hand controls that they were not familiar with.
  • Exposure to crushing hazards from trucks.
  • Exposure to crushing hazards from tractor trailer trucks placed on unstable surfaces in the loading dock area.
  • Exposure to being crushed under overturned trucks.
  • Failure to ensure employees have read operator's manuals before operating a borrowed, specialized, all-terrain vehicle.
  • Exposure to the hazard of serious crushing injuries from the dropping of a "Rotary" hydraulic automotive lift while working under vehicles on the lift while the lift was below the point where the locking devices engage.
  • Exposure to the hazard of being struck by or run over by the wheels of a Travelift Model 360AI straddle truck.
  • Exposure to the hazard of slick tires.

Broken Bones or Crushing

  • Crushing or amputation hazard from falling into a moving conveyor belt.
  • Being crushed by the bucket lift arms on a front end loader.
  • Exposure to the potential broken bones, severe cuts, and/or death while setting approximately 5,000 pound bundles of steel decking on unsecured and unbridged joists.
  • Exposure to lifting tasks resulting in stresses that had caused, were causing, or were likely to cause musculoskeletal injuries.
  • Exposure to the potential of broken bones, internal injuries, or death due to the shifting or dropping of the load or the lifting beams during the lifting or lowering of the load.
  • Exposure to the potential of serious crushing injuries from the dropping of air-operated hydraulic automotive lifts while working under vehicles replacing mufflers and brakes.
  • Exposure to the potential of broken bone injuries from falling between a trailer being used as an extension of a dock, and trailers backing into it for unloading and/or loading. Securing chain had pulled out of the pavement, so the dock trailer was not adequately braced or tied down.
  • Exposure to a crushing hazard from a falling load.
  • Exposure to the hazard of biomechanical stressors that cause musculoskeletal injuries affecting the elbow, shoulder, and low back of employees.
  • Failure to guard the foot treadle from unintended actuation on a shear.

Chemical Exposure

  • Exposure to possible leaks from hazardous air contaminants.
  • Direct skin contact and contamination with PCBs.
  • Exposure to acute chemical exposures from Trichlorosilane flowing or spraying out of a separated, burst, or split transfer hose.
  • Overexposure to toxic chemicals (chemicals not found in Subpart Z).
  • Exposure to group 2A carcinogen.
  • Exposure to lead-containing dust at a time weighted-average (TWA) exposure level of 0.17 mg/m3.
  • Exposure to a toxic and/or asphyxiation hazard while performing a cleaning operation using a halogenated organic solvent inside a sealed room.
  • Exposure to the hazard of being burned by the ignition of flammable vapors including, but not limited to, tetrahydrofuran and by combustible metals including, but not limited to, magnesium, and/or being struck by fragments of glass and other objects.
  • Failure to design positive-pressure rooms to protect operators from toxic chemicals.
  • Inadequate indoor air quality.
  • Potential toxic gas hazard from the improper storage of incompatible chemicals in a confined space.
  • Exposure to asphyxiation while working around a nitrogen-inerted process vessel.

Explosions and Fires

  • Failure to provide adequate oversight of fires.
  • Employees exposed to the potential of being trapped between floors in elevators during a building fire.
  • Exposure to potential fire and explosion hazards at magnesium screening operations.
  • Exposure to hazard of fire due to the improper storage of highly reactive oxidizing agents.
  • Exposure to explosion and fire due to inadequate atmospheric testing for flammable vapors in tanks and vessels prior to welding or cutting.
  • Exposure to the hazards of fire and explosion resulting from the ignition of flammable vapors in a mixing tank.
  • Exposure to explosions.
  • Exposure to possibility of burns from heat unit surfaces that were not guarded.
  • Exposure to fire and explosions which could have resulted in cuts, burns, and possibly death while smoking around patients who were hooked up to oxygen concentrators.
  • Exposure to explosion hazard from rapidly expanding steam vapor/molten metal.
  • Exposure to possibility of burn, multiple traumatic injuries and/or death from explosion and fire during the "blow-down" operation on gas filter/separators.
  • Exposure to hazard of fire while operating "RA" style oil switch by hand in a below grade vault.
  • Exposure to the hazard of fire and smoke due to the fire department not being notified immediately that the fire sprinkler system was shut down.
  • Failure to follow the National Wildfire Coordination Group Fireline Handbook.
  • Failure to follow DOT Pipeline regulations.

Fall Protection

  • Failure to install warning or limiting devices on a hammerhead crane to prevent employee exposure to a 190-foot fall.
  • Not providing fall protection for employees to prevent a 13-foot fall.
  • Not providing fall protection while erecting a steel structure.
  • Exposure to fall hazards while working 75 feet above the work floor.
  • Exposure to fall hazards while working on a roof.
  • Elevator hoistway doors not having a functioning interlock system for two freight elevators, exposing employees the hazard of falling into the elevator shaft and/or being crushed by the elevator.
  • Exposure to fall hazards of 9 feet to 18 feet while shingling with no fall protection.
  • Exposure to fall hazards of 15 feet while walking a masonry wall to set trusses.
  • No fall protection for employees required to wreck forms on a bridge exposed to a 17-foot fall.
  • Exposure to fall hazards of 10 feet while walking steel beams to connect and bolt up.
  • Exposure to falling from a hot air balloon not high enough for a bungee jump to take place.
  • Exposure to falls from a hot air balloon while being attached to a bungee cord that was not rigged correctly.
  • Exposure to a fall hazard when employees rode on a concrete hopper elevated by either an overhead tramrail or by a forklift.
  • No protection from fall by safety belt and lanyard attached to a static line.
  • Exposure to the hazard of falling into an approximately 10-foot-deep open pit containing hot water.
  • Exposure to falls due to improper use of portable ladders to access an upper landing surface and for failing to have the ladder side rails extend at least 3 feet above the upper landing surface to which the ladder was used to gain access.
  • Failure to ensure that framing contractors provide fall protection for employees exposed to fall hazards exceeding eight feet.
  • Exposure to fall hazards while being lifted by a powered industrial truck while standing on a platform that lacked standard guardrails.


  • Failure to offer post-exposure prohylaxis for Hepatitis B to an employee providing first aid.
  • Failure to make the Hepatitis B vaccination available to employees.
  • Failure to make a confidential medical evaluation or follow-up immediately after an exposure incident to Hepatitis B.


  • Exposure to back injuries due to lifting tasks.
  • Exposure to the hazards of lifting patients in an unsafe manner and other strenuous operations.
  • Exceeding the maximum permissible lift of the formula.

Repetitive Motion or Cumulative Trauma Disorders

  • Failure to implement an ergonomics program for employees exposed to repetitive motion trauma.
  • Exposure to the potential for repetitive motion trauma of the hands and wrists primarily from the use of, but not limited to the use of, hand-held files and utility knives.
  • Exposure to repetitive motions, which result in stresses that had caused, were causing, or were likely to cause repetitive disorder.
  • Exposure to the potential for cumulative trauma disorders from repetitive motion tasks involved with data entry operations performed using computer keyboards.
  • Exposure to the potential for cumulative trauma disorders from repetitive and excessive lifting.
  • Performing high frequency tasks involving repetitive motions, high force, and/or awkward posture, resulting in stressors which cause cumulative trauma disorder illnesses.

Struck By

  • Exposure to the potential of being struck by a hammerhead tower crane that was not provided with a braking means to prevent movement in both directions.
  • Being struck by broken parts of a gear pulling device during maintenance procedures.
  • Exposure to a struckby hazard.
  • Exposure to being struck by recoil of broken wire rope cable during operation of rail car puller in unloading area.
  • Exposure to the hazard of being struck by a high pressure hose.
  • Exposure to being struck by failed crane loads when changing patterns on the molding unit.
  • Exposure to being struck by and/or burned by the falling coke and ash and pocketed molten iron due to their presence at the opening beneath the cupola bottom.
  • Exposure to being struck by escaping steam and other debris as a result of failure in the steam system.
  • Exposure to being struck by escaping steam and other debris escaping from ruptured steam lines due to a "water hammer".
  • Exposure to the hazard of being sprayed by hot water from high pressure cleaning hoses.


  • Exposure to tuberculosis through transporting people to and from health care facilities.
  • Failure to establish and maintain a respiratory protection program.
  • Failure to provide employee training for tuberculosis hazards.
  • Failure to adequately design positive pressure rooms.
  • Exposure to tuberculosis through repeated prolonged indoor contact with patients who may be infected with tuberculosis.

Workplace Violence

  • Exposing employees to serious physical injury during seclusion/restraint incident with violent psychiatric patients.
  • Not providing security measures to minimize or eliminate employee exposure to assault and battery by tenants of an apartment complex.
  • Failure to protect hospital employees from patient's violent behavior.
  • Failure to provide reasonable security procedures at a retail store.


  • Exposure to the threat of heat stress.
  • Failure to have procedure requiring use of wheel-type wrench and power tongs.
  • Lack of enforcement of lockout and tagout procedures.
  • Overexertion injuries due to opening scissor-type hoppergates while in an awkward position.
  • Potential failure of the delimber head cable failing due to two of the three cable clips were installed backwards.
  • Unauthorized modification of the safety neutral switch allowing the switch to be bypassed when operating a four-wheel tractor.
  • Failure to inspect a hammerhead tower crane's hoist rope.
  • Insufficient length for rigging causing the hazard of being caught in "pinch points".
  • Failure to use blowout preventers when servicing oil wells.
  • Failure to train employees on the safe operation of equipment.
  • Not having access to emergency medical technician personnel during off-shift hours and holiday shutdown periods and had to clear the use of an ambulance with the security office.
  • Removing trash loader's speed restrictors and reinforcing the trash loader's flexible boom with steel plates (also called "fish-plating") causing an employee to be killed due to the head assembly loader falling on him.
  • Exposure to hazards (fall, confined space, etc.) to which employees were not familiar.
  • Exposure to building components collapsing.
  • Failure to properly monitor a reactor and operate with leaks and bad welds.
  • Exposure to the hazard of having large quantities of water puncture the skin, flesh, or organs.
  • Exposure to the hazards of shifting pipes.
  • Exposure to the dangers associated with standing on pipes.
  • Exposure to uncontrolled loads, swinging and/or falling steel.
  • Exposure to serious burns while having most of their body above and in close proximity to an open topped tank that contained citric acid and hot water solution at approximately 160 degrees F.
  • Exposure to the hazard of being killed when an inadequately anchored roof blew off.
  • Failure to install a blowout preventer.
  • Exposure to prematurely felled trees.
  • Exposure to potential oxygen deficiency or combustible gases while working in a manhole.
  • Improper handling of ammunition on a movie studio set resulting in the death of a movie actor.
  • Failure to protect the impaling hazard from a protruding valve stem.
  • Failure to install pull chain valves where feasible.
  • Lack of a railroad "blue flag" policy.
  • Failure to develop and implement a work-alone procedure.
  • Failure to inspect or conduct preventative maintenance on the winches and wire ropes of a Ferris wheel.
  • Exposure to falling loads and/or lift parts.
  • Failure to tie-down a mobile tractor.

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