In the June 2008 issue of  ISHN, I wrote an article about compliance with voluntary requirements that I think bears repeating. Please read the article below.

Distinguishing between voluntary requirements and mandatory regulations can be daunting as you work for optimal levels of safety and compliance. It’s essential to understand what “voluntary” can really mean in the business of safety. What is OSHA’s position on complying with industry general consensus standards? Companies that understand expectations regarding voluntary requirements will stay on the leading edge of worker safety and cost control.

“Incorporation by Reference” Safety and facilities consultant Eddy Valdes of World Class Solutions Group (WCSG), located in southern Florida, points out how OSHA’s General Duty clause and the topic of voluntary requirements are intertwined. “1910.6 ‘Incorporation by Reference’ is a very interesting OSHA regulation that few understand,” Valdes explains. “The regulation states that OSHA will incorporate voluntary industry consensus standards.”

1910.6(a)(1) states: The standards of agencies of the U.S. Government, and organizations which are not agencies of the U.S. Government, which are incorporated by reference in this part, have the same force and effect as other standards in this part.

This regulation was approved by the director of the Federal Register, and a few of the agencies and organizations that are referenced include the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and American Welding Society (AWS).

Valdes stresses the direct relevance of 1910.6 to the General Duty clause, Section 5(a)(1) which stipulates: “Each employer shall furnish to each employee employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

“In short, OSHA’s General Duty clause is saying that you have a duty to make your workplace safe and OSHA’s Incorporation by Reference is saying that there are voluntary industry consensus standards, while not officially written into regulations, that should be adopted,” Valdes asserts.
Valdes presents the following hypothetical scenario as an example of the interplay between the General Duty Clause and “the voluntary industry consensus standard”:

Company A has just moved into its new facility and is in the process of setting up its emergency response plan that will include first-aid requirements for the facility. OSHA regulation 1910.151(b) states that first-aid supplies are required to be readily available, but it does not state what supplies are needed. That is where OSHA references American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z308.1-1998 “Minimum Requirements for Workplace First-aid Kits.” This is a classic example of OSHA’s “Incorporation by Reference” standard, better known as the “general consensus standard.” OSHA is using the requirements of another organization (ANSI) to dictate what the contents of the first-aid kit need to be.

Regulations and voluntary consensus standards combine to create a safety practice framework to maintain employee safety and health. “Voluntary requirements” become much less voluntary when one examines OSHA’s intent and language. The simple existence of an industry consensus standard may be sufficient evidence that a hazard is “recognized” and that there is a feasible means of correcting such a hazard.

Reap what you sow “Some companies may focus on the minimum law simply to maintain legal compliance,” says Valdes. “But they are missing the big picture. Companies and organizations that take a proactive and voluntary approach to compliance and employee safety and health programs are positioned to have a more effective and productive work environment.”

Accepting safety and standards requirements as an ethical responsibility demonstrates a sincere concern for each employee and establishes the foundation for a safety-first culture. OSHA urges companies to go “above and beyond” in examining and adopting safety standards from leading safety organizations like NFPA and ANSI.

Whether it’s flame-resistant clothing or first-aid kits, knowing and implementing both mandatory OSHA requirements and voluntary national consensus standards will keep your company compliant and your employees safer.

Featured expert Eddy Valdes is a facilities and safety consultant and head of World Class Solutions Group.