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 https://www.osha.gov.


June 7, 1995




SUBJECT: Variance Request (Application Number 2258)


This is in response to your undated memorandum requesting our assistance in evaluating two variance applications from the Ford Motor Company (FMC). One of these variance requests is with respect to 1910.107(h)(6) which requires that a safe distance must be maintained between goods being painted and electrodes or electrostatic atomizing heads or conductors of at least twice the sparking distance. FMC requested this variance "to permit it to continue operating in accordance with the recommendations of the manufacturers of the electrostatic spray painting equipment it uses" in unmanned zones. Apparently, FMC intends that the variance apply, not only to fixed or permanently-mounted electrostatic spray application systems currently being used, but also to similar systems used in the future.

In your memorandum, you indicate your desire "to come to closure with this variance request as soon as possible" noting that the subject application was originally processed back in 1994. Further, you requested our input on the merits of the subject request going on the assumption that the apparatus and devices FMC uses in connection with its coatings operations will be of an approved type.

Assuming approval of electrical equipment is questioned, information provided with your memorandum indicates that approval would have to be categorized either by way of participation by a National Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) or by way of the participation by a manufacturer of custom-made electrical equipment. Evaluating this variance request on the assumption that electrical equipment is approved by way of NRTL certification does not follow, since the NRTL determines the suitability of electrical equipment or materials for a specific purpose, environment, or application concerned with products evaluation as part of its listing or labeling program. Any variance request granted by the OSHA must not have the effect of negating NRTL certification.

Under the definitions section, 1910.399, equipment is "acceptable" with respect to custom-made equipment or related installations which are designed, fabricated for, and intended for use by a particular customer, if it is determined to be safe for its intended use by its manufacturer on the basis of test data which the employer keeps and makes available for inspection to OSHA. Attachments to your memorandum include such manufacturer information provided by FMC as Exhibit 2 to their letter of May 9, 1994. As intended, custom-made manufacturers and NRTL's both provide independent, third-party (with respect to employers and OSHA) testing for the purpose of determining safe use of electrical equipment in the work place. In their May 9, 1994, letter attached to your memorandum, FMC states that "electric spray application systems they and other United States automobile manufacturers use were designed and installed by Behr's Systems, Inc. and ABB Paint Finishing Systems." This being the case, categorizing FMC's electric spray application systems as custom-made is deemed inappropriate.

Information provided by FMC indicates that its electric spray applications systems, as a whole, are not certified as required by OSHA. Apparently, some of the components of the electric spray application systems, which were designed and installed by Behr's Systems, Inc. (Behr) and ABB Paint Finishing Systems, are NRTL certified. FMC has not provided information on other components including the spray apparatus itself. Apparently, the electrical spray apparatus components of the electric spray application systems used by FMC were manufactured in Germany.

Factory Mutual Research Corporation (FMRC), an NRTL, approves electrostatic apparatus and devices used in connection with coating operations. FMC contacted FMRC on the possibility of obtaining NRTL certification of their electric spray applications system, but apparently lost interest because of the price FMRC quoted to certify the numerous systems in use throughout FMC plants. By way of telephone communications with a FMRC representative last summer, it was determined that FMRC had recently approved electrical spray apparatus which were determined to be electrically safe by design when used in accordance with the conditions of certification. Apparently, these FMRC-certified electrical spray apparatus are operated at energy levels sufficiently low so as not to constitute an ignition source which could cause an explosion or fire.

The other variance requested by FMC is with respect to 1910.107(h)(8) which prohibits the manipulation by hand of goods that are being coated by fixed electrostatic spraying equipment. In their correspondence (on page 4) which was referenced in the first paragraph of this memorandum, FMC stated that results of testing would be transmitted to OSHA when completed. Apparently, these FMC testing results were not included in the information you forwarded to us. This testing was intended to verify that any electrical energy that builds up, that is, an electrostatic charge, is not sufficient to cause injury to an employee. FMC provided a VCR tape on their typical production line operation consisting of unrestricted, manned next to unmanned, zones through which automobile components are conveyed for electrostatic paint spray applications. This VCR verifies FMC's letter disclosure that in fact employee physically touch automobile components when the components are partially in the unmanned zone where paint is being applied by fixed or permanently mounted electrostatic spray systems. Obviously, consideration of this variance request is subject to evaluation of the other aforementioned FMC variance request.

In summary, we recommend that FMC demonstrate that they are in compliance with other (than 1910.107(h)(6) and 1910.107(h)(8)) applicable provisions of 1910.107, particularly 1910.107(h)(2), which requires approved types of electrostatic apparatus and devices. Also, we recommend that all pertinent (including the undelivered testing) information be obtained before proceeding further with the disposition of the subject variances. For example, in what context, personnel safety wise, was 905 and 906 of the NFPA 33-1969 standard written? These National Fire Protection Association paragraphs were adopted subsequently into OSHA standards at 1910.107(h)(6) and 1910.107(h)(8), respectively.

[Corrected 4/14/2009]