OSHA Updates PPE Standards to Reference Consensus Standards

Sept. 9, 2009
On Sept. 9, OSHA issued a final rule revising the PPE sections of its general industry, shipyard employment, longshoring and marine terminals standards to reflect recent editions of the applicable national consensus standards that incorporate advances in technology.

The final rule, which affects PPE standards concerning requirements for eye and face, head and foot protection, goes into effect Oct. 9.

“Workers exposed to occupational hazards requiring head, foot or eye and face protection will now be provided protection based on a standard that reflects state-of-the-art technology and materials,” said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab. “This final rule is another step in OSHA’s efforts to update or remove references to outdated national consensus and industry standards.”

In 2007, OSHA proposed replacing references to outdated consensus standards with the requirement that PPE must conform to “good design standards.” The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) objected to this proposal, saying it did not assure a minimum level of protection. This new final rule discards the good design approach and instead relies on recent consensus standards.

Shipp: Right Move for OSHA

“We think they did the right thing,” said ISEA President Daniel K. Shipp in an interview with EHS Today. Shipp said the previously proposed good design approach “wasn’t going to work.”

“What OSHA has done now is simplify the process by incorporating by reference the three latest editions of the consensus standards for eye and face protection, head protection and foot protection, and also saying they will update these references by direct final rulemaking,” he explained.

Shipp is a proponent of the direct final approach because, he said, OSHA can publish a rule with the updated information and allow a 30-day comment period. If no negative comments are received within those 30 days, the rule simply goes into effect. If there is an adverse comment, then it becomes a proposed rulemaking.

“Direct final rulemaking is a good thing for non-controversial rules, and we think the updates to the voluntary standards here will be non-controversial,” Shipp said. “It will give the agency a better chance of keeping the PPE standard up to date, and also keeping it up to date with standards that are well known to workers and safety directors and people out there using these products.”

For example, Shipp pointed out that there is already a new version of the head protection standard ANSI Z 89.1. The standard referenced in OSHA’s final regulation is the 2003 version, but the latest 2009 version includes added head protection options.

“We’ll prepare that analysis and send it to OSHA with the request that they initiate a direct final rule to incorporate the latest version of the standard. And we’ll do the same thing when the new revision to Z 87.1 comes out probably late this year,” Shipp added.

OSHA requires that PPE be safely designed and constructed for the tasks performed. According to the Federal Register notice, OSHA “is deleting editions of the national consensus standards that PPE must meet if purchased before a specified date.” Other amendments to the PPE standard include a requirement that filter lenses and plates in eye-protective equipment meet a test for transmission of radiant energy such as light or infrared.

According to Shipp, this new rule will simplify compliance and enforcement. “It’s no great change,” he said. “Companies will continue to use the same eye and face protection and head protection equipment they had been using that meets the current standard. We think the way that OSHA is proposing to update the standard will make it easier for the standard to stay up to date now with the state-of-the-art [advances] as new consensus standards are published.”

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