Part 1: What is OSHA’s Stance on New Safety Standards?

By Control Engineering Staff August 22, 2007

With new safety standards and solutions emerging, manufacturers worry about what’s missing. Industry consensus standards by themselves are not enough. These standards don’t have the force of law except when specifically referenced by a governmental rule or regulation.

That gap leads to a question. If an ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard changes, what impact does that have on the applicable OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations? A few examples of machine guarding technologies allowed by recent changes in safety standards include; Safety PLC’s, Safe Drives, Safe Motion Control, Safe Busses, Safe CNC(Computer Numeric Control) Controllers, E-Stop devices connected to a Safety Bus (eliminating the need for hard wiring to a safety relay), and many more.

These aren’t idle questions and the answers can be a bit murky. On one hand, OSHA clearly uses ANSI and other industry consensus standards in determining violations. Over the last five years the agency has referenced some ANSI standard when issuing at least 2500 citations for a range of violations. A company was cited, for example, for not doing a risk assessment, a requirement arising from ANSI standard B11.TR3. The need for this assessment was not explicitly spelled out in any OSHA regulation.

Part of the reason for this use of ANSI standards is practical, notes J. B. Titus, manager of business development and industry standards at Siemens Energy and Automation. Industry tends to innovate faster than governmental bodies can develop regulations.

In the case of OSHA, the rule making process involves the U.S. Congress, committee hearings, legal review, public comments, and finally approvals. It’s not a quick procedure. Thus, there may be an ANSI standard covering a situation but no applicable OSHA regulation or rule. In such a situation, there is a clear issue that must be dealt with, or else the ANSI standard would never have been created. The existence of an ANSI safety standard also means there is a solution or a way to minimize the problem.

If that problem presents a serious danger to employees, OSHA cannot simply do nothing. Instead, the agency will use the tools available, which might be the already developed ANSI standards. In fact, Titus points out, OSHA’s General Duty Clause provides the agency the ability to do this.

Because of its mandate and authorizing legislation, OSHA cannot simply enforce all ANSI standards. However, the agency’s use of industry consensus standards provides manufacturers with an important tool for

The word ‘normally’ is significant. There are examples of industry standards not beingance in such a case might well be that the system should be designed so that the problem could not occur. Thus, OSHA might not care about the designed separation of the rollers in an emergency.

Jim Washam, a former OSHA machine safety specialist who’s now a consultant with Safety Alliance LLC of Cincinnati, Ohio, points out that OSHA encourages employers to comply with the latest ANSI standards, and typically employers who comply with ANSI standards would be in compliance with OSHA standard. In cases where OSHA has a more stringent standard, employers are required to comply with the OSHA standard.

One example involves the ANSI lockout standard Z244. The OSHA counterpart is Regulation 1910.147, which has strict limitations relating to the minor servicing provisions. The latest revision of the ANSI standard expands on the standard’s minor servicing provision, allowing more servicing to fall into that category instead of the major classification. This change, on the other hand, might not be accepted by OSHA. Manufacturers might therefore find themselves in a situation where many service calls are categorized as minor, while OSHA would consider them to be major. The result could be violations , although OSHA has been updating 1910.147 for the past several years and a revision is currently on the desk of Assistant Secretary Foulke for signature.

Washam notes that while compliance with OSHA standards is the law, OSHA also encourages employers to adhere to the latest ANSI standards, sometimes using the General Duty Clause to enforce this. He points out that it is the employer’s responsibility to assess the specific workplace conditions and determine if compliance with relevant ANSI standards is necessary to provide equal or greater protection than OSHA standards.

He also explains that this situation is likely to impact more and more industries and a wider and wider variety of machines. Since January of this year OSHA has

Naturally, OSHA auditors are going to focus on the machines of interest in those specified SIC industries. They will be looking to see if applicable regulations and standards are being met. Given the expanded array of machine types and industries under scrutiny, they will be interacting with more factories and inspecting more machines on those factory floors. So the chance that they will run across an implementation of a new standard has increased.

As for those new standards and keeping up to speed with them while staying on the right side of OSHA, Washam says the agency is in the process of initiating training sessions that cover the latest safety related developments in manufacturing. These sessions should provide the information needed by inspectors as they confront rapidly changing industrial circumstances.

In summing up the situation involving OSHA and industrial standards, Washam notes that over the years the agency has issued a number of interpretation letters in reply to being asked about specific ANSI standards in particular situations. He explains that OSHA rules and regulations need to be followed at a minimum but adhering to ANSI standards is often the best solution.

He says the official OSHA response in the interpretation letters with respect to industry consensus standards can generally be stated as, “You guys need to follow these regulations because they are the latest and best so you should use them”.

As a consequence, it becomes important for manufacturers to know which ANSI standards might apply to a given machine and situation. Equally important is knowing which standards are actually being followed and why.

Such knowledge pays multiple dividends. For one thing, it should make overall machine operation safer. It also means that manufacturers are prepared for those times when an OSHA representative has not been able to keep up with rapidly changing standards. When that happens, manufacturers will have the information for some on-the-spot education, which could mean manufacturers avoid a citation and therefore have one less worry.