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Do You Know the Difference Between OSHA Regulations and Consensus Standards?

Toby Graham /
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Companies we work with have a variety of OSHA regulations and consensus standards to stay in compliance with. The problem is, there are so many of them that they’re hard to manage, even more so when the difference between the two is unclear.

What’s the difference between an OSHA Regulation and an OSHA Consensus Standard?

The basic answer is that OSHA regulations are considered legal requirements and are subject to government enforcement. Regulations came into existence from consensus standards and have grown from them.

OSHA consensus standards, on the other hand, are the nuts and bolts of the OSHA regulations. They’re detailed accounts that provide rules, guidelines, and requirements for the regulations themselves.

Here’s a great definition of OSHA consensus standards from the Safety Pro:

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 great volume of products. These criteria are developed by committees of qualified representatives from industry, labor, and government agencies. In many instances, U.S. consensus standards are adopted in whole or in part as international standards.

Provenio Consulting dives in a little deeper:

What are some common consensus standards that OSHA adopts?

  • ANSI is the American National Standard Institute and they have many standards that apply to many topics, such as building construction, machine guarding, fall protection, and more. One example is ANSI Z87 sets the standards for producing safety eyewear. If you look at safety glasses, they will typically have Z87 inside the frames, and OSHA references this standard several times for general industry in 1910.6.
  • NFPA is the National Fire Protection Agency, and they have numerous standards on everything from building code to sprinkler systems to handling chemicals.
  • ASME is the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and their standards primarily refer to boilers and pressure vessels.
  • API is the American Petroleum Institute and their standards are primarily referred to for low pressure storage vessels.

Realistically, regulations and standards look very similar and often cause confusion between the two. Some regulations reference a standard, which allows OSHA to enforce the standard as law. A variety of other nuances lead to further confusion when reading regulations and standards.

The best rule of thumb is to contact your environment and safety consultant to walk you through whatever confusion you may be experiencing. However, there are four principles to keep in mind when navigating the dangerous waters of OSHA regulations and consensus standards.

  1. Consensus standards are not law.
  2. OSHA can cite you for not complying with standards.
  3. Consensus standards can be enforced by OSHA’s “incorporation by reference” or by the OSHA General Duty Clause.
  4. You are not required to adhere to any consensus standards. But this won’t stop OSHA from citing you for lack of compliance.

Keep in mind that this is not an all-inclusive list of methods to stay in compliance with OSHA regarding standards. Your safest approach is to consult a professional when it comes to OSHA compliance. We just might know a few hundred of em.) Check out out consulting services.

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