ANSI Health and Safety Standards: What Will Happen in 2003?

From the hazards of confined space to musculoskeletal disorders, committees accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) are poised to issue major voluntary standards this year.

As prospects dim for high-impact OSHA safety regulations in the near future, ANSI voluntary standards may now be more important than ever. Though often plagued by nearly as much controversy and resulting delays as OSHA rules, a number of new or revised ANSI standards are due to be released in 2003.

Confined Space

Perhaps the two most important standards that are to be issued this year are "Safety Requirements for Confined Spaces" (Z117.1) and "Management of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders" (Z365).

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is the secretariat of the confined space standard. "This is a significant revision of the previous 1995 standard," said Tim Fisher, ASSE's director of practices and standards. "There's no question that this is a much stronger version."

Why should Z117.1 be of interest to health and safety professionals? "Confined space continues to be a hot issue with the federal government," commented Fisher. "Deaths are decreasing, but not by very much. We expect a lot of orders for the document."

The instrumentation and rescue provisions are the areas with the major changes, said committee member and consultant John Rekus of John F. Rekus and Associates Ltd. in Riderwood, Md. Technology has changed in the years since the last standard, Fisher noted, and the new provisions reflect that. For example, the new standard has provisions on continuous monitoring and two-way radio communication with workers inside the confined space.

One major outstanding issue is the application of the standard to the construction industry, according to industrial hygienist Mary DeVany, CSP, president of DeVany Industrial Consultants in Vancouver, Wash.

"Right now, the OSHA confined space standard doesn't apply to the construction industry, unless state plans require it, even though many people there are doing the same work as in general industry," said DeVany. Once ANSI revises its standards, it becomes accepted industry practice. For this reason, she noted, construction firms and companies hiring contractors might want to require an ANSI-approved confined space program to avoid legal liability exposure.

"I've testified in a lot of confined space cases, both civil and criminal," commented DeVany, "and whether the organization that had the fatality followed standard industry practice is a very critical point in every case."

Deja-Vu Ergonomics

Management of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) appears as controversial as the OSHA ergonomics rule Congress revoked in 2001, but after years of work it is likely the ANSI standard will be released in 2003.

The standard offers a WMSD management program that includes:

  • Employer responsibilities;
  • Training of employees and managers;
  • Employee involvement;
  • Surveillance;
  • Evaluation and management of WMSD cases;
  • Job analysis;
  • Job design and intervention.

"I think the committee has been studious in its disregard for the concerns of the vast majority of the business community," commented Jonathan Eisen, spokesman for the National Coalition on Ergonomics, an industry group that fought the OSHA rule and opposes ANSI Z-365. "That committee is being led by a coterie of individuals who are committed to putting forth a standard almost identical to the discredited Clinton standard."

The standard is supported by organized labor and at least one professional organization, the American Physical Therapy Association. At press time, ASSE had not yet taken a position on the draft standard, saying in a statement: "We are still waiting to hear back from our representatives on the Z365 committee regarding the draft standard on musculoskeletal disorders."

In early 2001, many companies and industry groups submitted negative comments about the committee's October 2000 draft, but business leaders complain that their concerns were ignored. Some of the most frequently cited concerns are that the standard:

  • Is too broad in scope;
  • Does not adequately define an MSD;
  • Is based on subjective opinions rather than scientific data;
  • Fails to provide guidance as to when risk factors are hazardous, or when an employer has met the standard's requirements.

The issues raised, the near-universal business opposition, the complaint that nobody was listening; all appear identical to the problems that plagued, and ultimately helped kill, the OSHA rule.

Why are companies so agitated about a voluntary standard? "In the absence of an ergonomics OSHA standard, it could form the basis of General Duty Clause enforcement for a future administration that wants to be more aggressive in this area," explained Frank White, vice president of Organization Resources Counselors Inc. (ORC). White said ORC is not comfortable with the Z-365 committee's draft document. In an April 2001 letter White complained the standard was too broad, lacked a clear definition of WMSDs, failed to explain what kind of workplace exposure will reduce or eliminate them, and what is necessary to recover from them.

Despite the controversy, Leo Carey, executive director of government services for the National Safety Council (NSC), the secretariat of Z-365, said the committee expects to issue the final standard in early 2003 "at the latest." Some stakeholders said that because of the delays and acrimony surrounding the standard, NSC considered backing out of its secretariat role, but possibly due to union pressure, NSC is now committed to completing the standard as soon as possible.

Given business opposition to the voluntary standard, what kind of practical impact will it have? "There's got to be some business motivation to adopt this and I'm not sure what that is," commented White. "Maybe the best you can say is, this is an additional reference document."

Safety and Health

The goal of the Z-10 committee is to have a consensus draft for "Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems" for public review in 2003, said Manuel Gomez, DrPH, CIH, director of scientific affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association.

Although the committee hopes to complete a draft document in the foreseeable future, at press time their work was still far from over, so Z-10 members generally declined to go into details about the standard.

Gomez said there was some skepticism and controversy at the beginning of the Z-10 committee's work, "but now although not everybody agrees with what's going on, there's not an atmosphere of acrimony, which sometimes can occur in these processes."

Alan Leibowitz, the chair of the committee, said the standard will offer a tool people can use to establish a safety and health management system. Leibowitz is the director of environmental health and safety for ITT Defense Industries, White Plains, N.Y. The idea is to integrate safety and health management with the larger business management process.

"We are not assuming the business will run on safety and health," said Leibowitz, "but we want to assure that safety and health becomes part of the normal operating process."

For example, the new standard will likely include processes to ensure that when people are trained, they understand the health and safety aspect of their jobs.

Gomez added that there was a "strong consensus that this is a performance standard." The document may include specific examples in an appendix, however, to offer companies more concrete guidance.

Why would an organization want to use the standard? Leibowitz said the answer depends on the audience. "For me, in a larger organization, it gives us a common language when we're working on an acquisition or a joint venture."

A smaller company that lacks resources could benefit by learning the things to consider when determining how to protect their employees.

The Respiratory Protection Waiting Game

"Practices for Respiratory Protection" (Z88.2) has become a contentious standard, so much so that opinion is divided about whether it will be issued in 2003.

Howard Cohen, PhD, CIH, associate professor of occupational safety and health at the University of New Haven, chairs the committee, which has been working on a draft since 1996. He says the subcommittee has approved a draft and he expects the draft will go to the full committee early this year and to the public for final review. While "hopeful" that a standard will be approved in 2003, he admits that a complaint to ANSI about procedural matters could delay the standard.

"I can't see it coming out in 2003, despite what Howard would like to happen," asserted committee member Bill Newcomb, director of regulatory affairs and standards development for North Safety Products, Cranston, R.I.

Jeff Birkner, CIH, vice president of technical services at Moldex-Metric Inc. and a member of the committee, agreed. Moldex is a manufacturer of respiratory and hearing protection products with headquarters in Culver, Calif.

The standard will provide: accepted practices for respirator users; guidance on the selection, use and care of respirators; and requirements for establishing respirator programs.

The heart of the controversy has to do with guidance on the selection of respirators, viz. determining the correct assigned protection factor (APF) for respirators.

"We're very concerned that the assigned protection factors the committee is trying to settle on are not based on scientific data," said Birkner. "Some of the committee members have goneon record that they have arrived at some APFs 'by feel.' When you're protecting the health of workers and there's data available, you don't go by gut, you go by data."

If committee members believe ANSI procedures have not been followed, they can lodge an appeal of the final standard with ANSI, and this can delay the issuance of the final standard considerably. Manufacturers on the committee hinted they might do just that.

Birkner and Newcomb also said the current document was not user-friendly.

Cohen explained that manufacturers are very responsible, but the area is contentious in part because the data are not always good. If the protection factors of respirators are lowered, manufacturers worry the values they provided in the past may be viewed as wrong. "Product liability issues have not come up in the discussion, but I assume it comes up in the background," he added.

Further complicating the situation is that the previous 1992 standard was revoked in August 2002 because it was out of date. "So as we speak, there is no standard," said Cohen. "It took us longer than I think it should have."

To make matters worse, there is no lregulatory guidance, as OSHA reserved the APF table when it revised its respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) in 1998. Newcomb pointed out that OSHA promised to come out with its APF rule in 2002. It was listed as a "proposed rule" in the May 2002 regulatory agenda.

So what should users do to determine the APF for a given respirator? "The best thing to do is use the APF table on the older standard that was pulled," advised Birkner.

Newcomb mentioned a helpful new Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standard, CSA Z94.4-2002. CSA is headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario.

"It seems like it's almost a waiting game," commented Newcomb. "Who will come out with protection factors first OSHA or ANSI?" He then answered his own question: "I have a feeling OSHA will come out first, no matter how long they take."

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