ISEA to OSHA: Let's Work Together on Standards Updates

The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) has led the charge over the past several months to halt a misguided proposal from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that could make safety-related American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) personal protective equipment (PPE) standards meaningless.

OSHA has proposed to overhaul its use of national consensus standards in an effort to keep up with revisions to consensus standards, which it incorporates by reference. These references eventually become years out of date.

OSHA Standards and Guidance Directorate's Chief Dorothy Dougherty has indicated that OSHA is looking for a permanent solution for an expeditious approach to update references to national consensus standards. In a proposed rule published in May 2007, agency officials would do this by eliminating references to ANSI, ASTM and other national consensus standards incorporated into OSHA regulations.

In this proposed first step, OSHA would remove references to ANSI Z89.1 (for head protection), ANSI Z87.1 (for eye and face protection) and ASTM F-2413 (for foot wear) from its mandatory General Industry and Maritime PPE regulations. OSHA would replace references to these standards with a requirement that PPE meet what the agency calls “good design standards.”

A so-called “good design standard” would only have to meet three criteria: (i) specify the safety requirements for the equipment; (ii) be recognized in the United States as providing specifications that result in an adequate level of safety; and (iii) be developed by a standards development organization under a method providing for input and consideration of views of industry groups, experts, users, governmental authorities, and others having broad experience and expertise in issues related to the design and construction of the particular equipment.

The PPE rule would include an expanded non-mandatory appendix, with a list of consensus standards that OSHA says meet the good design standard criteria. So far so good.

But the non-mandatory appendix would only be a list of examples of standards that meet the “good design standard” criteria. Nothing in the proposed rule requires that equipment must be made in conformity to one of the listed standards — only that it be “constructed in accordance with good design standards.” And there is no requirement that one good design standard has to be as protective as another. However, the proposed rule states PPE manufactured to a good design standard must provide protection equivalent to or greater than the same type of PPE manufactured to a standard listed in the non-mandatory appendix.

This has been ISEA's principal concern about this proposal, and it is shared among other organizations, including the AFL-CIO, Center to Protect Workers Rights, American Society of Safety Engineers, and the Laborers Health and Safety Fund of North America. All these organizations, plus ISEA and four member companies, participated in a public hearing in Washington in December 2007, asking OSHA to reconsider its proposal.

ISEA's Concerns

While we are sympathetic to OSHA's situation, ISEA members expressed concern that the proposal would be confusing to users, difficult to enforce, and possibly reduce the level of protection from PPE supplied to workers in accordance with OSHA regulations.

ISEA's main concern is OSHA's only way of determining whether to admit a standard into the non-mandatory appendix would be whether the standard meets the criteria for a good design standard, not whether the standard offers equal to greater protection than the most recent edition of the comparable ANSI or ASTM standard. As ISEA President Dan Shipp said in his testimony, “the proposed rule removes the baseline for safety.”

Shipp testified that all national consensus standards do not require the same levels of protection. There are differences in scope, test procedures and performance measures. But nowhere in the OSHA proposal is there a requirement that the standards be equivalent — only that they meet OSHA's vague criteria.

National consensus standards exist across the globe. For example, ISEA identified over 180 national head-protection standards in 18 countries in addition to the United States, plus European and ISO standards. Many of these standards would meet the good design standard criteria. Assuming an importer could get them recognized in the United States, conceivably they could be accepted by OSHA, but they are far from equivalent to the ANSI or ASTM standards recognized by OSHA and used in American workplaces.

ISEA's Alternative

ISEA proposed an alternative that we believe will maintain a high degree of worker protection and simplify compliance. We recommended that OSHA keep references to national consensus standards in the mandatory regulatory text in order to establish a baseline. Employers would be required to provide PPE that meets the listed standard, or an equivalent standard designated by OSHA. OSHA could evaluate other standards, and include them in an appendix if it finds they are equivalent, and add those new standards to a non-mandatory appendix using the “direct final” rule approach.

Finally, Shipp said ISEA is willing to work with OSHA and the administration to find a legislative solution to update national consensus standards without proceeding through the time-consuming formal rulemaking process.

Next Steps

Following the public hearing and submittal of post-hearing comments, OSHA may issue a final rule, which must be a logical extension of comments submitted to the docket. You can read all the documents and testimony submitted for this proposal on the Web. Go to www.safetyequipment.org/gov.htm for a link to the OSHA docket. Please contact me at 703-525-1695, ext. 19, for additional information about this issue.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Glucksman is director of public affairs for the International Safety Equipment Association, where he directs the legislative and regulatory program for the association and its product groups. His “Washington Watch” column is a regular feature of Protection Update. Reach him at [email protected] or 703-525-1695.

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