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The Role of Consensus Standards in Advancing Safety

Peggy Ross, R.N., M.S., COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, CSP, CPE
Jun 20, 2017

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Consensus standards provide invaluable guidance resources for OSH professionals to apply in their roles to protect people, property and the environment. ASSP has increased its presence in the standards-development arena to become a leader in the evolution of voluntary OSH standards, both in the U.S. and internationally. The Society is currently secretariat of 11 standards that encompass more than 110 individual standards, as well as administrator of two technical advisory groups for global standards committees.

One question that ASSP’s Standards Development Committee hears often is, “What role do consensus standards play in today’s workplace and why should OSH professionals know about them and use them?”

Consensus standards provide guidance, reflect current expertise and establish effective industry practices for a focused topic. The experts who develop the standards represent a broad cross-section of industries and organizations, from professional societies, trade organizations and industry representatives, to safety consultants and government agency representatives. The consensus process encourages collaboration by bringing together diverse partners and viewpoints.

Consensus standards provide a single recognized expert resource. They are developed through a rigorous process and must be approved by ANSI. And, while using standards is voluntary, leading companies rely on them to drive continuous improvement and injury prevention. These standards may also be used in legal proceedings as a reflection of competent OSH practice.

Although consensus standards reflect industry best practices, management must sometimes be convinced to look beyond OSHA compliance. As OSH professionals know, compliance with regulatory requirements is often not sufficient to protect workers. Regulations are slow to change, often out-of-date and provide a minimum standard. Knowledge has increased and regulations lag behind current knowledge. Consensus standards provide the latest expert thinking as well as fill the gap where regulations do not exist or apply.

When talking to their leaders, OSH professionals should emphasize that providing a workplace where safety is a core value makes good business sense. To drive continual improvement and effectiveness, OSH professionals must take a systems approach to safety as they apply their expertise and make recommendations to management. Damage to people, property and the environment are consequences of system safety failure. Current expert knowledge in the consensus standards can help companies prevent those failures.

Peggy Ross, R.N., M.S., COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, CSP, CPE, is Chair of the Society;s Standards Development Committee. She is senior corporate manager, environment, health and safety, Baxter International Inc. Ross is a professional member of the Northeastern Illinois Chapter, a member of the Transportation and Ergonomics practice specialties, and a member of the WISE Common Interest Group.

Originally published June 20, 2017

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