Safeguarding: Are ANSI Standards Really
Originally published by Occupational Hazards
magazine, December 2004. Copyright 2004 by Penton Media Inc.
Through a variety of avenues, these consensus standards can
wind up having the force of law. Here's why.
by Joseph J. Lazzara
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has a
difficult task: how can it promulgate consensus standards, written entirely by
volunteers in subcommittees and with no enforcement authority? In the case of
ANSI's safety-related standards, how does this organization still warrant the
attention of machine builders, OSHA, users and labor? In short, how does ANSI
obtain respect and avoid being the Rodney Dangerfield of safety standards? The
answer revolves around whether ANSI standards are really voluntary, or
something much more.
One area of confusion for safety professionals, design
engineers, machine builders and users involved with the implementation of the
ANSI documents revolves around the enforceability of these consensus standards.
After all, these are just voluntary standards, right? Well, the real answer is
yes – and no. Technically, ANSI standards are considered voluntary consensus
standards and are not written as laws or regulations. In fact, the
subcommittees that create the standards have no enforcement authority, much to
the relief, I am sure, of the subcommittee members! Yet the standards
themselves are widely recognized in industry as an excellent source of
reference material, often with an easier-to-understand format than that of
The voluntary status of the standards can change
significantly when OSHA adopts ANSI standards by reference. This is the case,
for example, with OSHA 1910.215, Abrasive Wheel Machinery. The section,
1910.215(b)(12), requires abrasive wheel machinery guards to conform to the
ANSI B7.1-1970 standard on abrasive wheels. By specifically incorporating the
B7.1 standard in its regulations, OSHA has converted a voluntary standard into
a federal requirement. Various state safety agencies may follow the same
process as OSHA, and incorporate ANSI standard references in their respective
state regulations, especially when taking the lead from OSHA. For example,
California, Oregon and South Carolina all have similar rulings on the abrasive
What happens when the ANSI standard incorporated by OSHA is
later revised? No problem, as OSHA can show a surprising ability to react to
changes. In the case of the B7.1 standard, it was updated three times, in 1978,
1988 and 2000, and OSHA has issued directives to conform to the newer versions.
Since OSHA is built for power and not for speed, agility is not one of its
usual attributes. It may take a year or more for OSHA to officially recognize a
newer standard. In the interim, compliance to either version of the standard
would likely be acceptable, although one should verify this with the agency for
their particular situation.
Let's consider another example to illustrate how the
ANSI standards and OSHA regulations can interact. Assume that an OSHA
compliance officer cites a company under 1910.212(a)(3)(ii), for failure to
safeguard a machine at the point of operation. One way the company can abate
the citation is to demonstrate the machine is guarded according to the appropriate
B11 standard. In fact, the text in 1910.212(a)(3)(ii) includes, "The
guarding device shall be in conformity with any appropriate standards..."
Thus, here is a case where the voluntary B11 standard is used to correct a
hazardous situation, and reduce a citation issued under the mandatory OSHA
How is it that ANSI standards became part of the OSHA
regulations? In the early 1970s, when OSHA was issuing new workplace safety
regulations, it would often use what was available either as the basis for its
new regulations, or incorporate by reference an existing standard. In either
case, the ANSI voluntary standards would fill the bill, as they were considered
best practices at the time.
ANSI standards can also be interpreted as implicit
regulations through our American legal system. The standards make a wonderful
reference on how a machine should be, or more likely in the case of a trial,
should have been, guarded. Employers or manufacturers who do not comply have a
potential liability exposure if an ANSI standard indicates a method of machine
design, operation or safeguarding that may have prevented an injury. It would
be difficult to persuade a jury that a particular document is "just a
voluntary standard" while the opposing lawyer advocates it is really the
Holy Grail of safeguarding.
It is also very common to see a purchaser of equipment, raw
material, fasteners or just about any conceivable item reference that it must
meet a particular ANSI standard for the buyer's acceptance process. Consumers
should insist on this as well. For example, one should require that the next
pair of non-prescription sunglasses they purchase meet the requirements of ANSI
Z80.3, to ensure the correct UV transmittance, cosmetic quality and lens durability.
ANSI and OSHA formalized their relationship in a one-page
memorandum of understanding. The following key phrase describes how OSHA will
use the ANSI organization in future standard development: "ANSI will
furnish assistance and support and continue to encourage the development of
national consensus standards for occupational safety and health issues for the
use of OSHA and others." This certainly sets the stage for continued
integration of OSHA regulations and ANSI standards and cooperation between
these two organizations. OSHA's regulatory process will continue to have an
impact, and a strong influence, on whether ANSI safety-related consensus
standards remain truly "voluntary."
Be safe out there!
About the author:
Contributing Editor Joseph J. Lazzara has been the
president and CEO of Scientific Technologies Inc. (STI) since 1993 and has been
employed by STI since 1981. Prior to 1981, he was employed by Hewlett-Packard
Co. in environmental, health, safety and process engineering management. Lazzara
received a bachelor of science in engineering from Purdue University and a
masters in business administration from Santa Clara University. He is a past
member of the board of directors of the American Electronics Association, the
board executive committee of the AEA and past chairman of the AEA's Competitive
Excellence Committee. Lazzara also served as past chairman of the EHS Committee
for the Association of Manufacturing Technology.