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How to Apply for a Variance

OSHA developed four variance application forms and four corresponding application checklists. Use of the forms can significantly reduce the burden of wading through the complexity of federal standards in order to interpret and understand the information requirements associated with applying for a variance.  When used together with the appropriate application forms the checklists can prevent common errors likely to occur in completing variance applications.  The forms are based on the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act and the implementing rules (for further information and links see Variance Application Checklists and Forms below).

As the regulations do not specify a format, the application also can be prepared and submitted in the form of a letter with the following information included:

  • An explicit request for a variance
  • The specific standard from which the employer is seeking the variance.
  • Whether the employer is applying for a permanent, temporary, experimental, national defense, or recordkeeping variance, and an interim order. (If the application is for a temporary variance, state when the employer will be able to comply with the OSHA standard.)
  • A statement of the alternative means of compliance with the standard from which the applicant is seeking the variance. The statement must contain sufficient detail to support, by a preponderance of the evidence, a conclusion that the employer's proposed alternate methods, conditions, practices, operations, or processes would provide workers with protection that is at least equivalent to the protection afforded to them by the standard from which the employer is seeking the variance. (National defense variances do not require such a statement, and the statement submitted by an employer applying for a temporary variance must demonstrate that the employer is taking all available steps to safeguard workers.)
  • The employer's address, as well as the site location(s) that the variance will cover.
  • A certification that the employer notified employees using the methods specified in the appropriate variance regulation.

Submit the original of the completed application, as well as other relevant documents1, to:

By regular mail:

  • Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health
  • Director Office of Technical Programs and Coordination Activities
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • U.S. Department of Labor
  • Room N3655
  • 200 Constitution Avenue, NW
  • Washington, DC 20210

By facsimile:

202 693-1644

Electronic (email):

VarianceProgram@dol.gov

Variance applications involving one or more of the following situations are not appropriate:

  • The requested variance is from a "performance" standard, i.e., a standard that does not describe a specific method for meeting the requirements of the standard and therefore, there is no inherent requirement from which to grant an employer any relief.
  • The requested variance is from a "definition" in a standard, (i.e., a provision that defines a term used in the standard, but does not expressly specify an action for meeting a requirement of the standard) and therefore, it does not include an inherent requirement from which to grant an employer any relief.
  • The variance is a request for review and approval of a design or product developed for manufacture and commercial use.
  • There is an OSHA standard in effect that allows the requested alternative.
  • There exists an OSHA interpretation that permits the requested alternative.
  • There is an updated edition of a national consensus or industry standard referenced in the OSHA standard, and that is the subject of the variance application, that permits the requested alternative.
  • The application requests an exemption or exception from the requirements of the standard.
  • If the application is for a temporary variance, the employer applied on or after the date the standard became effective.
  • The applicant is contesting a citation involving the standard in question, or has an unresolved citation relating to this standard.
  • The application involves locations that are solely within states or territories with OSHA-approved plans.
  • The application is from a Federal agency.

Note: The occupational safety and health regulations entitled “Basic Program Elements for Federal Employees OSHA” (29 CFR 1960) contain provisions for an alternate standard for federal agencies.  Specifically, 29 CFR 1960.17 (Alternate Standards) authorizes the head of an agency to apply to OSHA for an alternate standard (where deemed necessary).  The Agency Head requesting the alternate standard must provide justification that equivalent or greater protection will be assured for affected workers by the alternate standard.

The Variance Application Checklists may be used by variance applicants to determine if their application for a variance is complete and appropriate.

The following Variance Application forms may be used by prospective applicants to better understand what information is required on the application. These forms may also be saved, filled in, printed and used for submission.

NOTE: When accessing the PDF files below, "RIGHT CLICK" on the links and save these files directly to your computer. Attempting to view or print PDF files through your browser with a plug-in viewer, can result in various technical difficulties.

OSHA may conduct site assessments when making decisions regarding the adequacy of an application or if it needs further information to process an application. When deemed necessary, OSHA staff will perform the assessment of the employer's worksite. Site assessments are especially useful for temporary or experimental variances, or when OSHA receives employee complaints regarding a variance application. Generally, experimental variance applications will necessitate an assessment to verify that the proposed experimental conditions are safe and healthful for workers. For temporary variances, the site assessment would investigate the availability of appropriate practices, means, methods, operations, and processes needed to come into compliance with the standard, as well as the ability of the employer to meet specific deadlines.

OSHA will arrange the site assessment with the employer in advance of its arrival. There are three parts to the assessment: the opening conference, the site investigation, and the closing conference. Site assessments are not compliance inspections, and the OSHA staff participating in the assessment will not issue citations to the employer.

After an employer submits a variance application, OSHA can either grant or deny the variance. Prior to granting a variance or interim order, OTPCA coordinates a thorough administrative and technical review of the application with other directorates and offices in OSHA, as well as its regional and area offices when appropriate. For permanent and experimental variances, the technical review determines if the employer’s proposed alternate method affords workers protection that is at least as effective as the protection that would result from complying with the standard. OSHA will deny a variance if the variance application fails the administrative or technical review process, including a failure to demonstrate that the proposed alternative would protect the employer's workers at least as effectively as the standard from which the employer is seeking the variance.

Copies of granted and denied variances, as well as interim orders, are available by accessing the Granted or Denied Variances Web page.


1 Other documents may include photos, blueprints, drawings, models, reports, data, and other information and evidence necessary to describe the proposed alternative, and to demonstrate the level of employee protection it provides.

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