Magazine article Occupational Hazards

OSHA Gets Serious about Standards Updates

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

OSHA Gets Serious about Standards Updates

Article excerpt

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is getting serious about standards updates. In November 2004, the agency published a direct final rule that seeks to strike five outdated standards from the agency's rules and regulations, as well as a notice that it intends to update other standards references in its rules. While OSHA has been addressing standards in fits and starts over the past two years, the agency now appears committed to updating and cleaning out old, dated national consensus standards--a welcome move for many users, workers and standards developers.

OSHA has used consensus standards as a basis for its safety and health standards since the earliest days of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970. At that time, Congress gave OSHA the authority for a two-year period to adopt both national consensus standards and established federal standards as OSHA standards without following notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures.

Today, there are about 200 consensus standards referenced throughout the OSHA standards for general industry, construction and maritime. The references appear in hundreds of requirements and range from informational references to mandatory requirements. The vast majority of these standards have not been updated since they were originally adopted. Some of the consensus standards "incorporated by reference" were issued over 60 years ago!

Referencing outdated consensus standards adds time-consuming administrative burdens on employers seeking to comply with OSHA standards. Ideally, employers would research the referenced consensus standards, identify and analyze any updates to the standards, and determine how they apply to their workplaces. (Nowadays, this is likely the role of the consultant.) Most outdated standards in OSHA's rules and regulations are no longer available--anywhere.

OSHA believes that it would be far more productive for the agency to use its time and resources to update its standards than to issue de minimus citations or grant waivers here or there.

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The Consensus Standards Update Project

OSHA recognizes the value of consensus standards, and prefers to use the most current version. For the most part, Standard Developing Organizations (SDOs) already have conducted substantial "notice-and-comment" procedures of their own in writing the standard. SDOs such as ISEA rely upon expertise of their own members and of individuals with diverse backgrounds to produce new or updated standards that incorporate the latest developments in manufacturing technology and workplace safety.

Congress places such a high value on national consensus standards that OSHA does not have to worry about political backlash as it seeks to update old standards and adopt new ones. The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act tells federal agencies always to consider adopting national consensus standards first before crafting a new rule or regulation. …

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