Five OSHA Standards That Really Don’t Exist

Five OSHA Standards That Really Don't Exist!

November 1, 2013- As a safety consultant and OSHA Outreach trainer, I hear a lot of discussion about certain safety measures that some people mistakenly believe must be followed “because Federal OSHA standards require it”. While their intentions are good, many times they would be embarrassed if someone challenged them to put their money where their mouth is and find the particular standard to which they referred in the OSHA regulations, because the standard does not exist. So I decided this month I would draw on my past experiences and share some of these phantom regulations I run across often by presenting my list of "Five OSHA Standards That Really Don’t Exist".


Seat Belts on Forklifts:  How many times have you heard someone state that forklift operators must wear their seat belt (a.k.a. an operator restraint system) because “it’s required in the OSHA standards”? While forklift manufacturers’ manuals recommend this practice, you will not actually find a requirement for seat belt use in the federal OSHA standards for powered industrial trucks; in fact, there is no mention of operator restraints in that standard at all! This is due to the fact that the old ANSI/ASME standard that OSHA adopted as the basis for their forklift standards did not require the use (or installation) of a seat belt at that time. However, you should be aware that ASME standard has since been revised to require the use of an operator restraint device, and most manufacturers provide retrofit kits so seat belts can be installed on the older lifts. Therefore, OSHA often uses paragraph (5)(a)(1) (the General Duty Clause) of the OSH Act of 1970 (employers must protect employees from recognized hazards) to cite employers who do not require seat belt use (as explained in this OSHA letter of interpretation).

Fall Arrest Required on Portable Ladders:  It is very common to hear people say that OSHA standards “require” employees on portable extension or step ladders to wear a fall-arrest harness with lanyard connected to an adequate point of attachment if they are working at a height over 6 feet. The rational here is that Subpart M of the federal OSHA construction standards requires employees be provided with some form of fall protection when exposed to potential falls of 6 feet or more. However, when you refer to the scope and application section of Subpart M, you will see that it actually excludes work regulated by Subpart X (ladders). And the federal OSHA ladder standards do not require fall arrest systems to be used by workers on portable ladders; that is because the ladder standard is predicated on the employee using the ladder properly (not over-extending, not standing too high on the ladder . . .). Here is a link to an OSHA letter of interpretation that provides additional clarification on this subject.

Hazard Communication Annual Refresher Training:  When I conduct mock-OSHA inspections, it is not uncommon for a safety director to sheepishly admit that they are “overdue” on their annual refresher training for Haz-Com. While it may be a great idea to conduct annual refresher training on this complex topic, it is not actually required in the federal OSHA Hazard Communication standard; it only requires initial training, and then additional training in certain instances (such as, but not limited to, when new chemicals have been introduced into the work area). Of course, the recently-revised OSHA Haz-Com standard does requires employers to provide training for their workers on the GHS format for labels and safety data sheets (see related blog post here), but that is also a one-time requirement in the federal standard.

Hard Hats on All Construction Sites: “Where’s your hard hat?” yelled the safety manager to the painter who was applying touch-up paint to a wall inside a new office building. “Don’t you know you can be kicked off my construction site for violating OSHA regulations? Everyone is required to wear a hardhat!”  Good thing the painter did not ask the safety manager to show the standard in the federal OSHA construction regulations that required everyone on the construction site to be wearing a hardhat, because the safety man would have been hard pressed to find that actual requirement.  The OSHA standard for construction actually states that “employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, shall be protected by protective helmets”. However, that is not a blanket requirement that ALL workers wear them ALL the time, just when they are exposed to the listed hazards.  In this particular case, the worker was in the room totally alone, painting trim along the floor, and there was no actual need for a hard hat. Now, I understand that some construction sites mandate hard hats be worn by all people on site at all times because they don’t want to have to babysit who does and does not need to be wearing one; I’m just pointing out that this was not a situation that would have been a specific violation of an OSHA regulation as claimed (and believed) by the safety manager.

Bloodborne Pathogens Training for All Workers:  Many a time have I heard during an audit that employers have trained all of their workers in Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) “as required” by the OSHA BBP standard.  When I inquire what they mean, they state that “all” their employees at the work site have “occupational exposure” to blood because a co-worker might get cut or get a nose bleed, so therefore they provided everyone with the “mandatory” training. Now I would never discourage anyone from providing awareness-level training to all workers about the potential for contracting a bloodborne pathogen if exposed to another person’s blood, but, A) it is not required by the federal OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard, and, B) they are also misunderstanding the definition of “occupational exposure” as defined in the standard (it means someone who would normally be expected to be exposed to blood or other body fluids as a part of their normal job duties; e.g.: a surgeon, a designated first-aid provider, a janitor who cleans up after an accident . . .). Furthermore, there is much more required to protect workers who really do have occupational exposure than just training; OSHA standard also require those workers who truly have occupational exposure to BBP’s to be included in all phases of the BBP program, which includes offering the Hepatitis B vaccination series.

Let me close by clarifying that some of the State OSHA programs have regulations that actually DO require a couple of these things listed above. Also, the purpose of this blog post is NOT to discourage employers from choosing to go above and beyond what is required in the OSHA regulations. So feel free to require all of your employees to climb seven feet above the ground on portable ladders while wearing hard hats and fall arrest gear as you show them a hazard communication training and bloodborne pathogens training DVD’s every year; I just don’t want you to do it because you believe it is required in the federal OSHA standards.

If you have questions, comments, or want to share a commonly misunderstood “OSHA standard” that does not really exist with other readers, please enter that information in the “Comments” section by clicking here and then scrolling down the page to the comments box. And last but not least, I encourage you to Share This Blog Post with Others in Your Network who might enjoy reading this post.


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Author - Curtis Chambers, CSP


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