Not Safe For Work


Most everyone has heard the maxim, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” It’s a common saying, and is generally pretty accurate. As individuals and organizations, we can be blissfully unaware of certain information, a custom, or a rule simply because we have not been exposed to it or have not sought to learn it. This lack of awareness can result in a spectrum of outcomes, from the comically inappropriate—such as giving your Iraqi cab driver a “thumbs up”—to fines and a reckless driving charge for presuming a lack of speed limit signs means, “GO AS FAST AS YOU WANT!”

Nowhere is this phenomenon more prevalent, nor does it hold more sobering and expensive consequences, than in relation to OSHA workplace safety compliance. Violations of the OSHA code not only put employees at risk but can also result in hefty fines and legal consequences for the company.

Since it’s true that we often “don’t know what we don’t know,” here are 10 OSHA violations that aerial adventure companies may not know they’re committing.

1. Failure to Provide Fall Protection

Given how much of our work in the aerial adventure industry involves moving around and working at height, this one may not seem like it should make it into the top 10. I mean, we have cool harnesses and lanyards and belay systems that we use to keep our employees and guests safe, right?

The sobering truth is: falls from height are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries and fatalities. Many may not know that the OSHA code dictates that employers must provide fall protection for employees working at heights of 6 feet or more.

One place where this requirement, and the potential for catastrophic consequences, is missed is on ground-based platforms that are connected to aerial elements.

A zip line takeoff or landing platform situated at ground level, but that services a zip line that spans a drop-off, is a prime example. In these circumstances, it’s woefully easy to miss the danger of a fall from height that could result from an untethered employee being pulled from the platform by a patron. This exact scenario has resulted in multiple injuries and fatalities across our industry in the past decade.

The moral: If there’s potential for an employee to fall from a height higher than 6 feet, that risk must be mitigated. If it is not, you’re in violation of this high-profile requirement.

2. Inadequate Hazard Communication

Many of the violations on this list are things that employers who are focused on high-profile safety concerns, like work-at-height, may blithely overlook. Hazard awareness and hazard communication, especially as it relates to chemical hazards in the workplace, are among those potential blind spots.

Employees are commonly called upon to handle and dispense things like pesticides, herbicides, gasoline, etc., and the dangers associated with those products must be communicated via the creation and maintenance of Safety Data Sheets, and through proper training and instructions.

3. Improper Handling of Hazardous Materials

Related to number 2, employers must provide proper training and PPE to employees who work with hazardous materials. Failure to do so can result in exposure to toxic substances and serious health consequences.

All chemicals need to be understood and handled in a safe way, based on the hazards they present. All chemicals have risks, but some people have serious sensitivities to certain chemicals that can result in severe reactions. Something as common as bleach being used to sanitize water coolers, if used improperly by someone who doesn’t know they don’t know how to use bleach properly, can result in chemical burns on the skin and respiratory damage from the fumes.

Whenever employees are required to use chemicals, they need to know how to do it safely and properly. Failing to ensure that employees have this knowledge is a significant OSHA violation.

4. Failure to Provide Adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

This one is directly related to number 3. When we think of personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees, we tend to think in terms of harnesses, helmets, lanyards, and the like. But when it comes to those “extra” tasks that employees are required to undertake, like spraying the weed killer or cleaning the coolers, employers need to ensure that employees have—and are using—the necessary PPE for the job they are doing.

Employers must assess workplace hazards, provide appropriate PPE, such as gloves, goggles, helmets, and respiratory protection, and ensure that it fits properly, is in good condition, and that employees know how—and when—to use it. Which naturally leads to number 5.

5. Failure to Provide Adequate Training

It’s shockingly common for employees to be given a job or task for which they have not had direct training. Just think about how often you as an employer have directed an employee—or have been directed as an employee—to “jump in the company truck, run down to the hardware store, and get us a box of three-inch screws” or “grab the weed whacker and knock down the high grass around the check-in building.” Who doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift truck or run a weed whacker, right?

However, OSHA code requires employers to provide comprehensive work safety training to employees on a regular basis. In fact, its General Duty Clause, simply stated, indicates that if an employee is required to undertake a task, employers must provide training to employees on workplace hazards, emergency procedures, and equipment use involved in that task, whether that task is as simple as weed whacking or as involved as working at height. It should also be noted that this training must take place (a) before starting work, (b) when new hazards are introduced, and (c) periodically thereafter.

Employers must keep records of training sessions and ensure employees understand and follow safety procedures to prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace. Anytime we, as employers, direct employees to undertake a task, it should immediately alert us to ask the question, “have we trained them to do that?”

6. Improper Machine Guarding

Part of the safety training that employers are required to provide employees is the proper use of tools. And integral to that training is a proper understanding and use of the tool’s safety features.

It’s often tempting to remove or modify a guard because it gets in the way of a task that needs to be done. However, removing or disabling machine guards (such as those on an angle grinder or table saw), failing to install guards on machines with moving parts (such as not installing the protective chute on a lawn mower or weed whacker), or even neglecting regular maintenance on tooling to make sure the guards are operational are all violations of OSHA code.

These aren’t just violations that can earn employers a fine, they can—and often do—result in serious injury to employees. The lesson: retain and maintain the proper guarding on your tools and equipment.

7. Unsafe Electrical Practices

Electrical hazards are among the most common causes of workplace injuries and fatalities, as it is profoundly simple to be electrocuted. All one needs to do is be the conduit that completes the circuit to the ground, and electricity will do the rest.

Common unsafe electrical practices that employers overlook include overloading outlets with too many devices, using damaged extension cords or power strips, and failing to ground electrical equipment properly (i.e., removing the grounding pin from extension cord plugs or equipment).

These practices dramatically increase the risk of electrical shocks, fires, and other accidents in the workplace. Unfortunately, they are woefully common, and therefore an important area to which we must pay attention.

8. Unsafe Ladder Use

Ladders are a common cause of workplace injuries, particularly when used improperly. Like being electrocuted, getting seriously injured on a ladder is easy—simply allow the use of ladders that are damaged or missing steps, place ladders on unstable surfaces, fail to secure ladders properly, overreach while on a ladder, carry heavy objects while climbing, or use the top rung of a ladder as a standing work surface, and gravity will be happy to make you regret your choice.

These types of improper ladder-use practices are common and should be an area that employers address with training.

9. Improper Handling of Potable Water

This is another area that most of us don’t think about very often, but that needs our attention. OSHA is the acronym for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And nothing is more important to the health of our employees than providing clean water and clean water containers for their use. It’s embarrassing to consider how easy it is to violate OSHA requirements for properly storing or handling drinking water.

As outlined by OSHA code, violations can include storing water in unsanitary containers that are not designed for drinking water (remember the trend some years ago of guides using camp stove fuel bottles for drinking water?), failing to protect water sources from contamination (i.e., employees placing hands into coolers to retrieve ice), and allowing water to be exposed to potentially harmful substances.

Inadequate cleaning or maintenance of water storage containers, such as water coolers or dispensers as well as reusable water bottles, can constitute improper handling of drinking water. Strictly speaking, if your operation does not have procedures and training for handling potable water and for the sanitation and maintenance of water containers, it’s a violation of OSHA code.

Employers must ensure drinking water is stored in clean, food-grade containers, protected from contamination, and regularly inspected and maintained to prevent health risks and comply with OSHA regulations for workplace safety and health.

10. Failure to Conduct Regular Safety Inspections

OSHA requires that employers conduct safety inspections of the workplace to identify and correct potential hazards. This is often referred to as a hazard assessment, which is used to identify the areas where a company is out of compliance and establish a plan to address those shortcomings. (For more, see “Hazards Ahead”, Adventure Park Insider, Winter 2023.)

How often do these inspections need to be done and by whom? OSHA’s General Safety and Health Provisions (29 CFR 1926.20) states “… programs shall provide for frequent and regular inspections of the job sites, materials, and equipment to be made by competent persons designated by the employers.” So, there isn’t a stated frequency. OSHA just requires that they be done in a manner that reasonably complies with “frequent and regular.”

Ongoing safety inspections that consider all the areas identified in a hazard assessment are an integral part of ensuring our workplaces are as safe and healthy for our employees as possible. Failure to conduct these inspections can result in serious injuries and costly fines.

Learning and Acting

In the end, OSHA compliance and workplace safety is about finding out what we don’t know, then acting on that new knowledge. The great news is that there are many resources to assist with that process, including Adventure Park Insider, the “Challenge Course Pro Tips!” workplace safety video series (available on and YouTube), and the website.


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