OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.
October 16, 1991
Mr. Paul C. Abenante, President
American Bakers Association
1111 14th Street, N.W., Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20005
Dear Mr. Abenante:
Thank you for your letter of September 27, regarding the document being developed by the American Bakers Association (ABA) entitled "Ergonomics in the Baking Industry."
You requested the assurance of the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that the existence or substance of this document would not serve as the basis for citation of an individual employer, or be utilized as evidence of: (1) a "General Duty Clause" violation under Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), or (2) the characterization of any alleged violation as "willful" under the OSH Act.
We encourage any efforts by the ABA to develop voluntary, industry-wide programs to improve safety and health conditions generally in its members' workplaces. We especially encourage employer groups to address ergonomic conditions in their members' facilities. Such programs can provide valuable guidance to employers, tailored to the needs of individual industries and workplaces. They also serve generally to increase employers' awareness about ergonomic issues.
The Agency's inspection scheduling systems are based on identifying industries and workplaces where serious hazards are known to occur or to be likely. OSHA would not use the development of guidelines or a model program by a particular industry as a basic for targeting workplaces in that industry for inspection. On the contrary, such industry-generated programs — where properly developed and effectively implemented — indicate to OSHA that responsible employers in that industry are likely making appropriate efforts in meeting their responsibilities under the OSH Act. Moreover, an employer could not be cited solely for failing to follow an industry-developed document.
OSHA inspects an employer and finds serious ergonomic-related hazards that the employer is not addressing, citations may be issued for violation of Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act. As you may know, to sustain a Section 5(a)(1) violation, OSHA must establish that the hazard is recognized by the employer or the employer's industry. In this case, industry-developed guidelines or documents dealing with this hazard may be pertinent in establishing recognition of the hazard. Therefore, OSHA cannot rule out utilizing pertinent industry-generated documents or programs in investigation alleged violations or documenting citations for serious hazards.
I hope this has been responsive to your request. We appreciate your willingness to work cooperatively to improve workplace safety and health.
Gerard F. Scannell