AIHce: Moving at the Speed of Consensus

With the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) de-emphasis on regulations, consensus standard-setting organizations told attendees at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo that they want to increase their roles in providing workplace safety and health guidelines.

Even before the Bush administration put a stop to several actions in this year's regulatory agenda, Janice Comer Bradley, technical director of the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), noted how few OSHA standards are promulgated from year to year.

"Under Republican or Democratic administrations, the regulatory process moves at a snail's pace. It doesn't matter who's in the White House," Bradley said during a session at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Expo in San Diego.

Given finite resources and a broad scope of occupational settings, not to mention an administration that is emphasizing compliance assistance and outreach in addition to enforcement, consensus standard-setting organizations can help address the myriad of workplace hazards much quicker than OSHA. Consensus, or voluntary, standards provide a viable and practical alternative to regulatory standards because they maximize resources and expertise from a variety of settings and perspectives, such as industry, labor, government, academia and trade groups).

"This is where we can make progress in improving safety and health," said Robert E. Glenn, CIH, president of the National Industrial Sand Association and chairman of the American Society for Testing and Materials' E34 committee on occupational health and safety.

Since Sept. 11, a number of American National Standards Institute's standard-setting organizations are looking into several issues around terrorism and emergency planning and response that could lead to consensus standards, according to Bruce W. Teele, senior fire service safety specialist for the National Fire Protection Association.

The terrorist attacks also have brought forth "a whole new generation of people seeking safety and health information, Bradley said. "The words 'safety and health' now are taking on new definitions. They not only deal with the workplace, but have taken on a 24/7 mentality," she noted about a broadening scope into security and other related areas.

Unfortunately, because consensus standards, by their design, are voluntary, many employers do not heed these guidelines until they are part of OSHA standards, which can take years. "When OSHA references one of these [voluntary] standards, Teele said, "overnight there is a change in the overall attitude about that standard as far as compliance."

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