046: What Are Industry Consensus Standards?

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Throughout OSHA regulations, you will find references to industry consensus standards such as those in Subpart I – Personal Protective Equipment. These PPE regulations refer to ANSI standards as the safety criteria manufacturers must meet when producing eye, face, head, and foot protective equipment. OSHA requires employers to purchase personal protective equipment that bears the ANSI mark to ensure that the equipment provides the maximum protection for the wearers.

ProTip: OSHA does not include industry consensus standards in the regulations; instead, it refers employers to various consensus standards as the safety procedures and specifications for the workplace. This referral procedure is called “incorporation by reference.”

Incorporation by reference is a statute that allows federal agencies to meet the requirement to publish regulations in the Federal Register by referring to materials posted elsewhere. The legal effect is that the content is such as if it were in full in the Federal Register and, like any other properly issued regulation, has the force of law.

In some cases, OSHA may not incorporate by reference a particular industry standard, but it may hold employers to that industry standard under the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, recognizing that the industry standard contains best practices the employer should use. For instance, ANSI/ISEA Z308.1, Minimum Requirements for Workplace First Aid Kits an Supplies, has not been adopted by OSHA. However, ANSI/ISEA Z308.1 provides detailed information regarding the contents and types of various first aid kits; OSHA has often referred employers to ANSI/ISEA Z308.1 as a source of guidance for the minimum requirements for first aid kits.

Where an OSHA standard incorporates an old consensus standard, what is the significance of an updated industry consensus standard?

Under OSHA’s de minimis policy, where OSHA has adopted an earlier consensus standard, employers who comply with the updated version will not be cited for a violation of the old version as long as the new one is at least equally protective.

Remember, though, that where an OSHA standard incorporates an earlier consensus standard, the only way the OSHA standard can be changed to adopt the new version is through rulemaking. For example, OSHA’s aerial lift standard references ANSI A92.2-1969. Even though ANSI A92.2 has been revised, the OSHA aerial lift standard continues to require only compliance with the 1969 standard. There is no automatic adoption of the more current industry consensus standard.

Industry consensus standards are just that, a voluntary standardization system for private industry. They set conformity and uniformity criteria for the development and manufacture of a significant volume of products. Committees of qualified representatives from industry, labor, and government agencies develop these criteria. In many instances, U.S. consensus standards are adopted in whole or in part as international standards.

Some organizations that publish consensus standards include:

  • American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists;
  • American Society of Agricultural Engineers;
  • American National Standards Institute;
  • American Petroleum Institute;
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers;
  • American Welding Society;
  • Compressed Gas Association;
  • National Fire Protection Association; and
  • Society of Automotive Engineers.

ProTip: You may purchase copies of the consensus standards from the organization that issues them. OSHA’s Docket Office and each regional office also maintain copies of the standards referenced in the regulations. These standards are available for public review at those offices.

What is NIOSH?

NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, is an agency separate from OSHA, yet is part of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIOSH, also established by the OSH Act, is the research agency for occupational safety and health.

What is ANSI?

According to their website; as the voice of the U.S. standards and conformity assessment system, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) empowers its members and constituents to strengthen the U.S. marketplace position in the global economy while helping to assure the safety and health of consumers and the protection of the environment.

The Institute oversees the creation, promulgation and use of thousands of norms and guidelines that directly impact businesses in nearly every sector: from acoustical devices to construction equipment, from dairy and livestock production to energy distribution, and many more. ANSI is also actively engaged in accreditation – assessing the competence of organizations determining conformance to standards.

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