Skip Navigation
Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

What the OSHA Standards Say

Code of Federal Regulations

Click to Enlarge.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is an annual codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government. The purpose of the CFR is to present the official and complete text of agency regulations in one organized publication and to provide a comprehensive and convenient reference for all those who may need to know the text of general and permanent Federal regulations.

  • The CFR is divided into 50 TITLES (1-50) representing broad areas subject to Federal regulation. For instance: Title 29 - Labor.
  • Each Title is divided into CHAPTERS that are assigned to agencies issuing regulations pertaining to that broad subject area. For example: Chapter XVII - Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
  • Each chapter is divided into PARTS (1900 - 1999). For example: Part 1910 - Occupational Safety and Health Standards.
  • Each Part is divided into SUBPARTS (A-Z).For example: Subpart D - Walking-Working Surfaces.
  • Each Subpart is then divided into a number of SECTIONS which are the basic units of the CFR. For instance: 1910.23 - Ladders.
Click to Enlarge.

A standard (or regulation) is a regulatory requirement established and published by the agency to serve as criteria for measuring whether employers are in compliance with the OSH Act laws. OSHA standards are published in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and are divided by industry:

Organizing OSHA Standards

  1. Part 1904 covers OSHA recordkeeping requirements.
  2. Part 1910 covers requirements for general industry.
  3. Part 1926 covers the requirements for the construction industry.
  4. Parts 1915, 1917 and 1918 cover the maritime industry.
  5. Part 1928 covers agriculture industry.
  6. Part 1952 covers requirements for State Plans.

All OSHA standards are available on OSHA's website. You can look them up by the standard number or do a search by topic.

Four Types of OSHA Standards


Horizontal Standards

Most standards are horizontal or "general," which means they apply to any employer in any industry. Examples of horizontal standards are the standards relating to:

  • Fire protection
  • Working surfaces
  • First aid.

Vertical Standards

Some standards are relevant only to a particular industry, and are called vertical, or "particular" standards. Examples of vertical standards are those applying to the:

  • Longshoring industry
  • Construction industry
  • Special industries covered in subpart R of CFR 1910.

Performance Standards

Performance standards allow the employer to choose a method of compliance. An example of a performance standard would state: “One or more methods of fall protection shall be provided..."

Specification standards

Specification standards provide the exact procedure or measurement the employer must use to comply. An example of a specification standards would state, "Top edge height of top rails, or equivalent guardrail system members, shall be 42 inches (1.1 m) plus or minus 3 inches (8 cm) above the walking/working level."

The General Duty Clause


Where there are no specific OSHA standards, employers must comply with the OSHA Act Section (5)(a)(1), General Duty Clause (GDC) which says:

  • "Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."

OSHA defines a hazard as "a workplace condition or practice to which employees are exposed, creating the potential for death or serious physical harm to employees." To be cited by OSHA, the hazard must be clearly stated and defined in terms of the presence of a hazardous condition or practice that presents a particular danger to employees. Also, the hazard must be a condition or practice that can reasonably be abated by the employer.

What OSHA must prove to cite an employer

A GDC citation must involve both the presence of a serious hazard and exposure of the cited employer's own employees. In general, the following criteria are necessary to prove a violation of the general duty clause:

  1. The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed;
  2. The hazard was recognized;
  3. The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and
  4. There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.

The General Duty Clause (Continued)

Types of recognition: Employer, industry, and common sense.

Recognized Hazards

OSHA's Field Operations Manual (FOM) for inspectors, OSHA lists three ways in which a hazard qualifies as recognized:

  • Employer recognition: This can be established by evidence of actual employer knowledge of a hazardous condition or practice.
  • Industry recognition: A hazard is recognized if the employer's relevant industry is aware of its existence.
  • Common sense recognition: If industry or employer recognition of the hazard cannot be established through employer or industry recognition, hazard recognition can still be established if a hazardous condition is so obvious that any reasonable person would have recognized it.

Serious Physical Harm

The General Duty Clause requires the employer to protect employees against hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm. We all know what death is, so we'll briefly discuss what OSHA considers to be serious physical harm. It's the "impairment of the body in which part of the body is made functionally useless or is substantially reduced in efficiency on or off the job."

Impairment may be permanent or temporary, chronic or acute. Injuries involving such impairment would usually require treatment by a medical doctor or other licensed health care professional.

The General Duty Clause (Continued)

Feasible Abatement

Feasible measures include those generally used within the industry.

The General Duty Clause requires that employers develop workplaces free from recognized hazards. To do that, employers are expected to use available hazard abatement measures that are feasible (capable of being done) and likely to correct hazards. Generally, abatement measures are economically feasible when the cost of those measures will not threaten the employer's ability to stay in business. Evidence of feasible abatement measures indicates that recognized hazards are preventable.

To determine if abatement measures are available to employers, OSHA looks for the following:

  • abatement methods by the employer before accidents/incidents;
  • abatement measures by the employer developed after accidents/incidents or inspection;
  • abatement measures by other industry employers/companies;
  • manufacturer recommendations addressing safety measures for the hazardous equipment; and
  • abatement measures suggested in trade journals, national consensus standards and individual employer work rules.

Most Frequently Cited Standards

Click to see all 10 violations.

The following is a list of the top 10 most frequently cited standards for 2019 following inspections of worksites by federal OSHA. OSHA publishes this list to alert employers about these commonly cited standards so they can take steps to find and fix recognized hazards addressed in these and other standards before OSHA shows up. Far too many preventable injuries and illnesses occur in the workplace.

Note that the Fall Protection and Hazard Communication standards are usually at or near the top of the list, so it makes sense to give these two programs top priority. However, because OSHA sees and cites the "Top-10" violations frequently, it's smart safety management to make sure all of the "Top-10" programs are effective. After all, the following statement is true:

"That which OSHA sees the most, is cited the most."


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. The OSHA standards for Construction and General Industry are also known as _____.

2. Which of the following types of OSHA standards are industry specific?

3. Which of the following types of OSHA standards allows the employer to choose a method of compliance?

4. The OSHA Standard discussing machine guarding is considered a ____________ standard.

5. The _____ requires that each employer furnish a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.