OSHA Serious vs. Willful Violations: What’s the Difference?

OSHA Serious vs. Willful Violations: What’s the Difference?

Injuries in the workplace are unfortunate occurrences. Despite active measures to mitigate them, employers occasionally neglect to inform their employees of any and all safety hazards. Some other employers may actively refuse to create a safer work environment. When OSHA spots these issues, they’ll issue a serious or willful violation against the company or employer. This brief guide on OSHA serious vs. willful violations: what’s the difference will clarify any confusion on the two types of violations.


Serious safety violations are the most grave. These are accidents or injuries that cause serious harm or death. Mainly, serious violations are at the terms of the employer’s knowledge. If an employer does not know of any potential risks, they may not be liable for a violation. However, if an employer knowingly ignores or neglects to address substantial workplace hazards, OSHA will reprimand them with a serious violation.


Willful violations occur when there’s a blatant disregard for legal workplace rules and regulations. OSHA reprimands employers who display willful ignorance of employee safety and let accidents or injuries happen. OSHA identifies three main types of willful violations: intention disregard, plain indifference, and criminal willfulness. Intentional disregard violations are those in which an employer refuses to follow proper safety protocols and chooses not to address them. Plain indifference occurs when there’s a lack of concern for the health and safety of employees due to poor management communication or little-to-no onsite supervision. Lastly, criminal willful violations are when an employer’s actions or inactions result in an employee’s death with no attempts at restitution.

Other-Than Serious

Another violation worth mentioning but may not fall under the differences of serious vs. willful violations are other-than serious violations. This term refers to incidents that OSHA deems were done irresponsibly but weren’t serious in nature. Although these violations still affect the health and safety of employees, they may fall under passive ignorance rather than active negligence.

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