Required to comply with OSHA industry standards?

By: Travis Rhoden

Publication: Workplace Safety Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 05/17/2021

OSHA Industry Standards Required?

We hear about them all the time: “ANSI,” “NFPA,” “ASTM,” and similar industry “standards.” They provide valuable safety information for a variety of topics. But, are you required to comply with them?

The answer: It depends.

There are actually a few ways OSHA holds employers to comply with consensus standards like those from ANSI and NFPA.

One of the ways is by a process called “incorporation by reference.” In these cases, OSHA has actually incorporated the industry standard by reference during the rulemaking process. In those cases, the industry standards have the same force of law as the OSHA standard. You can see a list of those industry standards that are incorporated by reference in 1910.6.

In other cases, OSHA uses the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act. They do this by citing an employer for a hazard for which OSHA has no standard. And, what they say in the General Duty Clause citation is that “one feasible way to correct the hazard would be to comply with [insert consensus standard].” A good example of this is inspecting and maintaining storage racks. OSHA doesn’t have a specific standard requiring this, but they regularly cite ANSI/RMI MH 16.1, an industry standard for industrial steel storage racks. Here’s an actual citation issued in this way:

“OSH ACT of 1970 Section (5)(a)(1): The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees in that employees were exposed to a potential struck by hazard: a) ... Steel storage racks were not equipped with weight capacity markings, structural columns had minor damage and multiple sections of racking were not bolted to the floor, as observed on or about August 18, 2020. ABATEMENT NOTE: Among other methods, one feasible and acceptable method to correct this hazard is to follow the requirements set forth in ANSI MH16.1 Specifications for the Design, Testing and Utilization of Industrial Steel Storage Racks. Abatement Certification Required.”

OSHA uses a similar process where there is a standard, but that standard doesn’t address a particular aspect. For example, for emergency eyewashes/showers, OSHA has a standard that requires the equipment be present when workers are exposed to corrosives. But, the standard doesn’t address the design of the eyewash/shower, flow rates, volume, etc. When issuing citations for inadequate equipment, OSHA refers to the ANSI Z358.1 standard as a means to support citations.


Key to remember: You don’t have to follow all ANSI standards. But there are some that you do, at least for particular issues. If you can’t find something in the OSHA regulations, chances are there is an ANSI standard.

New industry standard for plastics machinery
The Plastics Industry Association recently announced that its Machinery Safety Standards Committee has released a new American National Standards Institute-accredited safety standard: ANSI/PLASTICS B151.11 Safety Requirements for Granulators, Strand Pelletizers and Dicers Used for Size Reduction of Plastics. The standard contains safety requirements for the manufacture, care and use of granulators, strand pelletizers, dicers and single-shaft rotary grinders.

About the author
Travis Rhoden - EH&S Editor

Travis is a senior editor with J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. He specializes in safety management systems, job hazard analysis, machine guarding, storage rack safety, forklift training and OSHA inspections. 

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