Ever had a question about an OSHA regulation and you are not quite sure how to answer it? There are many folks that look at the regulations and simply get overwhelmed. All of the terminology and parts and subparts of parts and appendixes that are mandatory or non-mandatory and (in text speak) OMG ! What do I do?
First of all, calm down. Too many people think, “OSHA regulations are too difficult to understand. The regulations are too complicated. Every business is different. The regulations work well on paper, but don’t work in real life.”
The list of reasons why we don’t follow the OSHA regulations is endless. And in fairness the regulations can be difficult to follow but there is a five step process for answering any OSHA compliance question that you have.
Step One – Go to the Regulations
This may sound like an obvious path forward yet some are intimidated by the standards. You won’t be if you break it down in steps.
- First, make sure you are in the correct subpart for what you want to research.
- Next, read the definitions, they can help you understand the intent of the standard.
- Finally, check to see if there is an appendix. Some standards have mandatory or non-mandatory information about that topic and you may find an answer there.
Step Two – Letters of Interpretation
The letters of interpretation is a section where individuals have written to OSHA to clarify a particular regulation. If someone had the same concern that you face, your answer could be there.
There are plenty of letters listed with OSHA’s response and interpretation letters are considered rule.
This is also where you can write for a clarification to your own concern. However, you may find response time a bit slow.
Step Three – Compliance Directives
If you are not finding a letter addressing your topic you can research the Compliance Directives. The directives are written to the Compliance Safety Officers (CSO) in the field. While similar to the letters, they provide information about how CSO’s would interpret hazards in your workplace and are as authoritative.
Step Four – Legal Cases
When there is a citation issued and that citation is contested there is an independent agency that reviews them. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) will make decisions on citations or penalties from inspections.
The more you know about past issues, the better you can determine your own path forward with potential hazards in your workplace.
Step Five – Call for Assistance
If you have exhausted the first steps and haven’t found the answer, don’t be afraid to call OSHA for some help. OSHA is always willing to give an employer the assistance needed to keep their employees safe. Look for the Compliance Assistance page on the OSHA website. From this site you can access resources to help you prevent occupational injuries and illnesses, comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and learn about OSHA's cooperative programs. If anything it shows ‘Good Faith’ and that you want to do the right thing.
OSHA is not an entity that should be feared, they want the same thing you do – a safe workplace for you and your employees. As an OSHA Outreach Instructor myself, I want to be sure that employers and employees can get the answers for their safety and health questions. Email if you need help.
Remember that the standards are just the minimum that you can do to protect your workers.