OSHA's Variance Program
A variance is a regulatory action that permits an employer to deviate from the requirements of an OSHA standard under specified conditions. A variance does not provide an outright exemption from a standard, except in cases involving national defense as described below. Sections 6 and 16 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), and the implementing rules contained in the Code of Federal Regulations (29 CFR 1905 and 1904.38), authorized variances from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. An employer or class of employers may request a variance for any specific workplaces. Employers can request a variance for many reasons, including not being able to fully comply on time with a new safety or health standard because of a shortage of personnel, materials, or equipment. Employers may prefer to use methods, equipment, or facilities that they believe protect workers as well as, or better than, OSHA standards.
The Office of Technical Programs and Coordination Activities (OTPCA) in OSHA's Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management (DTSEM) receives and processes variance applications. OTPCA processes variance applications in close collaboration with other affected regional offices and directorates. OSHA's mandate is to ensure that employers' alternatives for worker protection proposed in their variance applications are as effective in providing worker protection as the standards from which the employers are seeking a variance.
For questions about the variance process contact OSHA at VarianceProgram@dol.gov.
Completed, Granted or Denied Variances
OSHA Approved State Plans
Employers located in states with their own occupational safety and health programs should check the state plan(s) variance application regulations and apply to the state(s) for a variance. If however, an employer operates facilities in states under federal OSHA jurisdiction and also in state plans, the employer may apply directly to federal OSHA for a single variance applicable to all the establishments in question. OSHA will then work with the state plans involved to determine if a variance can be granted which will satisfy state as well as federal OSHA requirements.