Top 10 OSHA Violations and How to Solve Them Without Going Broke

*This article originally appeared in the NFDA Memorial Business Journal*

Nashville, Tennessee – At the start of his program during the 2021 NFDA International Convention & Expo, Mark Harrison asked the audience a very pertinent question: “What are the potential monetary penalties from an Occupational Safety and Health Administration citations?” For a session titled “Top 10 OSHA Violations in Funeral Homes,” this question was a great place to start.

Guesses by participants varied and reached more than $70,000 before Harrison revealed the correct answer – the starting point is about $44,000. For repeat offenders, however, OSHA will hit back hard, and $70,000 would then become more realistic. Businesses that keep violating OSHA regulations very well might be shut down.

“The keyword here is willful violation,” Harrison said. “You’re not going to get tagged with a $44,000 or $50,000 fine right away, but if you’re repeating it over and over again, or if your facilities are in really bad shape, it could be as much.” Harrison, a partner with Certified Safety Training, an NFDA-endorsed provider, likened OSHA to the U.S. Coast Guard. If they board your boat and find a life vest missing, they will want you to remedy the situation. But if they come back and the problem still hasn’t been addressed, then they’re probably going to fine you. The problem is that these fines add up over time if you are really out of code.

Next, Harrison asked attendees how often funeral homes need to test for formaldehyde. Every year? Every two years? Every five years? Once per career? “You only need to test for formaldehyde once if you’re under the permissible exposure limit and nothing ever changes in your facility,” Harrison explained. “OSHA will find anything that has changed since your last test and say you need to test again.”

Harrison would like to think that firms have a “culture of safety” and that any time they hire a new employee, they should test. “To be proactive, you should probably test once a year just to stay on top of it,” he said. “It’s not that expensive to get a couple kits and wear them during an embalming. It’s worth the investment.”

He noted that if a business hires three new employees at the same time but the firm only tests once, it is in the clear.

If a firm is missing its formaldehyde testing, Harrison said, it’s looking at a $2,500 fine. Failure to measure air contaminants to ensure exposures do not exceed the eight-hour time-weighted-average could result in fines starting at $2,780.

Harrison then shared the results of a survey he conducted in early 2021 with 100 funeral service students across the country, in which he asked how often they think they need to test for formaldehyde in their profession. “Less than half of them said every year,” he said. “Only about a third or so said every two years.”

“What’s good is that this group will understand that there’s value to testing every year,” Harrison explained. “Even if it’s not because you hired a new employee, but if you’ve changed your ventilation system or something like that, you should test again.”

Harrison presented an OSHA case study of a New York funeral home that was fined for formaldehyde monitoring. The citation read: “Employer is unaware of employee exposure to formaldehyde and therefore unaware of what, if any, actions to take regarding training and monitoring.”

“This is just a matter of measuring,” Harrison said. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so this gets back to testing. Make sure that you’re testing, and make sure that you’re setting that baseline for understanding what you would need to do next.”

Next, Harrison posed the question: “How often do you think you need to train for bloodborne pathogen safety?” Possible answers ranged from every year to once per career. “It’s across the board that everyone should get this training every year,” advised Harrison. “And this is not just funeral service – it’s any industry that comes into contact with blood.” 

“The rule of thumb is to have the training for new hires, but also every year get [staff] trained on this,” he explained. “You have to have access to a live trainer [for] this. You could do it online via chat, which we [Certified Safety Training] provide as well.” 

If a firm is missing this training, it’s a $2,672 fine, and failing to update and review bloodborne pathogen programs annually is a $2,040 fine. “The reason is that it gets really complicated really quickly,” said Harrison. “A lot of people in this room probably have this ingrained in their brain, which is good, but for some folks who have been in the industry only a couple of years, it actually makes a big difference to review what they’re exposed to and how to avoid some of that exposure.”

He suggested that if a funeral home has a bloodborne pathogen exposure program, you can outline who’s exposed to blood and who’s not. “Make that very clear that you’ve done your research,” he said. “We like to show proof of training. I would make sure that you get a 10-question proof-of-training quiz. Show who the trainer was, and that should round out your program as having a written plan, proof of training and proof of trainer qualifications.”

Harrison shared a case study from a funeral home in Michigan. The citation read: “Bloodborne pathogen training records were missing the summary of contents of the training, as well as the name and qualifications of the trainer. Training was documented as ‘YouTube’ and employer could not describe the content of the training.”

“You can’t just say you went on YouTube and did your training; that’s not sufficient,” Harrison said. “You’re going to get dinged with that.”

Harrison said a college professor would have the qualifications of a bloodborne pathogen trainer. He also mentioned that cemetery workers do not need to have this training. “It would be nice to have it, and I would recommend it, not just because of what they’re exposed to on the job but because they could actually cut themselves,” he said. “The power tools they deal with can break skin pretty easily.”

Next, Harrison showed an image of an exit door at a funeral home that was blocked by crates and boxes. An OSHA inspector is basically programmed to look at an exit sign and determine if the exit is accessible in the event of an emergency. And this is not specific to funeral homes – it’s every workplace. “It’s just universally applicable,” he said. “Can somebody get out of this building in the event of an emergency?”

Harrison revealed that for a blocked emergency exit, the business faces a $2,100 fine. If an exit is unmarked, you’d be looking at a $2,138 fine.

Another question to think about is how often do you need emergency action and fire safety training? Again, he said, this is another annual training event. Any workplace that could potentially have a fire must review this training.

Harrison recalled a story that found a lot of funeral homes just using a hose instead of a shower in case of an emergency involving chemicals. “That’s definitely a no-no,” he said. There are a couple fines in this general realm – one involves missing protective eyewear, a $2,125 fine, and a missing eyewash facility in the immediate work area, a $2,000 fine. “If you have an eyewash station or a shower, but there are things in the way and I might trip, that’s also a fine,” he said. “The path to the eyewash station has to be clear and allow the employee to access it in 10 seconds or less. I should have a straight line to whatever emergency water I need.”

Because the world has been dealing with COVID for the past two years, Harrison said a poll of funeral service students on the frequency of personal protective equipment (PPE) training found that they believed this should happen every year. “It was really interesting to look at about 60% of them say ‘every year,’ but that’s not actually true. You could do this every other year; there’s no real mandate.”

If a funeral home is missing a spill response program, it would result in a fine of $2,672. The reality is that until recently, if you had fewer than 16 ounces of any given chemical in any given container, you didn’t need a spill protection program in funeral service. “Your spill protection could be part of your hazard communication program; it should fall under that,” Harrison said. “If you classify your spills as incidental and not emergencies, with 16 ounces or less of any given chemical, which most of you have, you’re okay.”

If the funeral home purchases chemicals in larger amounts, such as gallon containers, however, Harrison recommended having a spill-response program to know how to clean it up properly and who to call if necessary. This would involve training and a written plan, not simply signage.

Some fire departments would like to know if a building has certain chemicals, and a higher quantity of them in a given room or closet. He suggested labeling it as such to help them out and to help other people in the facility. “It’s not a requirement, but it’s a great proactive step,” he said.


Missing biohazard labels on containers of regulated medical waste, including on refrigerators and freezers, is subject to a $3,500 fine. Harrison said firms should conduct hazard communication training every year. “If you have a full program that includes a written plan for training, proof of training and proof of trainer qualifications for hazard communication, then you should be able to label your spills as incidental and get out of the spill response program requirement,” Harrison said. 

Missing safety data sheets for formaldehyde can cost a firm $2,500. He noted that all firms should have safety data sheets and pointed out that material safety data sheets are outdated. If your funeral home still uses those, then they need to be updated. “As of 2016, there was a globally harmonized standard that makes everything a little more universal,” Harrison said.

“We recommend having at least two written copies – one in the business office and one in the prep room – because if something happens to one of those locations, you always have a backup,” he said. “We really recommend having an electronic version because you’ll never lose it, and if chemicals change, you just update this database electronically. We provide that if you need it, but your chemical providers can also do this for you.” 

Harrison said he was working with a funeral home in Alaska that was dealing with the mislabeling of secondary containers. OSHA observed several bottles of chemicals in secondary containers missing the hazard identification. “If you have somebody who has a certain concoction and likes to say that this is my ‘special container,’ then make sure it’s labeled,” said Harrison. “Just label your containers; it’s a mandated rule of thumb and also a good pro-active safety measure.”

Harrison posed a last question to attendees: “How many required compliance programs and plans does your firm currently have?” The answer should be 10. He said all successful safety programs start with one key question: “How do I eliminate the danger, hazard or threat from existing in the first place?” 

The secret about safety is it’s not really about safety, it’s about culture. “If you have a good, healthy workplace where people are looking out for each other and thinking critically about how to keep each other safe, that goes further than any sort of administrative policy you might have,” Harrison said. “It’s all about your culture.”

In conclusion, Harrison summarized his top 10

OSHA compliance items for funeral homes:

  1. Emergency Action and Fire Safety Program
  2. Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Control Program
  3. Hazard Communication Program
  4. Respiratory Protection Program
  5. Personal Protective Equipment Program
  6. Formaldehyde Exposure Control Plan
  7. Spill Response Program
  8. Safety Data Sheets
  9. Proof of Training
  10. Recordkeeping

“If you want to interact with us and need any advice, or you just have questions, simply text or email us,” said Harrison, who has extensive experience in online education and digital training, and has launched successful online safety training programs in the funeral service, veterinarian and dental professions. 

For more information about Certified Safety Training, visit