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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.
February 8, 2005
Mr. Peter Radford
Atlas Converting Equipment Ltd
Dear Mr. Radford:
Thank you for your June 7, 2004 letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Directorate of Enforcement Programs (DEP). This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any questions not delineated within your original correspondence.
Question 1: You provided an overview of OSHA's enforcement policy with respect to the machine guarding provisions of 29 CFR 1910.212, General [guarding] requirements for all machines. You noted that the standard requires that point of operation guarding conform to mandates contained in OSHA standards relevant to particular machines. If no OSHA standards address point of operation guarding for the particular machine, the guard must be designed and constructed to prevent exposure to the machine's danger zone while the machine is operating. You then asked whether employers in the United States could follow standards developed by the European Community to comply with the guarding requirements of 29 CFR 1910.212.
Answer: Paragraph (a)(1) of OSHA's machine guarding standard, 29 CFR 1910.212, broadly addresses the various types of hazards that machines may present. An employer's compliance obligation under this standard also is broadly worded — namely, to provide one or more methods of guarding to protect the operator and other employees in the machine area. An employer may choose any method or methods of guarding that will provide the intended protection, and that method(s) could include the use of machine guarding that conforms to European Norms and the European Community machinery directive. What is determinative under the OSH Act, however, is not whether the guarding meets European standards, but whether the guarding protects employees in the manner contemplated by the machine guarding standard.
The machine guarding standard also includes a specific provision at paragraph 1910.212(a)(3) that addresses point of operation guarding. The guarding must "be in conformity with any appropriate standards therefore, or, in the absence of applicable specific standards, shall be so designed and constructed as to prevent the operator from having any part of his body in the danger zone during the operating cycle." Case law under the OSH Act establishes that the phrase "appropriate standards" refers to specific OSHA standards published or incorporated by reference in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. European standards, therefore, would not qualify within the scope "appropriate standards" pursuant to the standard. If there is an OSHA standard that calls for a specific method of point of operation guarding, an employer must comply with that standard. However, OSHA may treat the use of a different method of guarding as a de minimis violation, if the guarding provides equal or greater protection. A de minimis violation results in no citation, penalty or abatement requirement. In the absence of an applicable OSHA standard, the situation is similar to that under §1910.212(a)(1) in that any method of point of operation guarding that fulfills the intent of the standard is acceptable.
Question 2: My company produces various machines. We perform risk analyses to determine the hazards associated with these machines. We then develop and install guarding to effectively and efficiently protect employees from the identified hazards. For example, many of our machines are equipped with safety fencing that is interlocked with the machines' movement to create a barrier to access to hazardous parts of the machines. The safety fencing complies with European Community standards, but some customers in the United States have stated that it is not required by OSHA standards. Are they correct?
Answer: Without a comprehensive description of the machinery and the associated hazards, it is not possible for us to ascertain definitively what type of guarding, if any, would be required pursuant to the OSH Act. Thus, although interlocked barrier guards provide effective protection in many situations, without more information about the particular machine and associated hazards, we cannot ascertain whether this guarding method either exceeds or fails to satisfy the OSHA requirements for the particular piece of machinery. While compliance with European Community standards may produce the level of employee protection contemplated under the OSH Act, the only way for an employer in the United States to be assured that it is in compliance with the OSH Act is to provide machine guarding that conforms to the provisions of relevant OSHA standards.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. 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. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of General Industry Enforcement at (202) 693-1850.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs