Standards and Why You Should Be Involved in their Development

shutterstock_428537935As we brace ourselves for the 2016 elections and the onslaught of negative political advertising that will inevitably ensue, I think it is worthwhile to discuss a “good news” story in legislative history. In 1970, the Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) Act was signed into law. Within the OSH Act is the General Duty Clause, which states, in part, “each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

The General Duty Clause is not complicated, but it is open for interpretation. How can employers and employees identify and address “recognized hazards” in their enterprise? This is where standards come in.

Simply put, standards help companies meet regulatory requirements by identifying known hazards within a given industry, and providing guidance on how such hazards can be effectively mitigated or managed. Aside from regulatory compliance, industry standards can also be used to demonstrate that a product or service is suitable for its intended use. Additionally, the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) claims standards help streamline internal operations, innovate and scale up operations and help companies create or enter into new markets.

Standards are drafted by committees of affected persons who have a material interest in a particular industry. Committees commonly include a balance of product manufacturers, distributers, users, consultants, academia, regulators or other individuals with a vested interest in a particular industry. Committees are tasked with coming to consensus, or a generalized agreement free of sustained opposition, on the guidance in the standard. This is the key: a standard is the output from when industry experts with diverging interests agree on specific guidance and requirements. In a sense, a standard is a proclamation from disparate industry voices on how to best regulate their industry.

By Pat Davison, MHI Director of Standards

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