Machine Safety: Domestic U.S. versus international standards

For machine safety, who needs to follow OSHA regulations, domestic standards, and various state and local requirements? Are you confused? Explanations follow.


Which machine safety regulations apply in the U.S.?

- Some say that compliance with OSHA regulations and domestic standards plus state and local requirements are the primary responsibilities within the U.S.

- Others say that compliance with OSHA regulations, international standards and a few domestic standards plus state and local requirements are the primary responsibilities within the U.S. 

U.S. and European models of machine safety compliance differ, explains J.B. Titus.Are you confused? Has anybody ever come across a Cliff Notes document that explains the relativity of domestic standards versus international standards for compliance within the U.S.? 

I suspect the answer to this question is probably no, otherwise there would be far less confusion. In my experience there are at least two answers – the simple answer and the murky answer. 

Simple - domestic companies that have all of facilities within the U.S. generally focus at the U.S. domestic standards for compliance. This generally also applies for compliance to machines manufactured for U.S.-based customers. However, machines for export out of the U.S. will likely be required to comply with international standards. This compliance requirement is usually specified in the purchase documentation. 

Murky - Domestic companies that have facilities in the U.S. and international locations often choose to be compliant with the international standards for uniformity. However, the U.S. facilities will often also be compliant to the domestic standards. Their international facilities will likewise usually be compliant with country and local requirements. 

This issue could be somewhat confusing in part because of the enforcement for compliance and inconsistent messaging from suppliers. U.S. domestic suppliers tend to promote the simple message to the market and the larger/international suppliers tend to promote the international (or murky) message. Furthermore, our enforcement model is quite confusing. OSHA is the law and they focus on their 29 CFR Regulations plus reserving the right to reference certain domestic standards. But U.S. enforcement doesn’t end here.

Litigation in court is another form of enforcement following an unfortunate incident or injury. In this playing field both domestic and international standards are used every day by lawyers. They can do this because the U.S. has delegates from industry, organizations, education, and other sectors who participate on the International standards committees representing the U.S. Therefore, lawyers argue that U.S. industry participates in international standards, and that they should also be in compliance with these standards. This often results in a settlement out of court if the international standard has a requirement that could have prevented the incident. 

I hope that helps. So, are you more or less confused now? 

Has this presented you with any new perspectives? Add your comments or thoughts to the discussion by submitting your ideas, experiences, and challenges in the comments section below. 

J.B. Titus, CFSE

Related articles:

Machine safety: Shared responsibility

Inside Machines: Does adopting ISO 13849-1:2006 change the U.S. model for compliance and enforcement?

Machine Safety – does OSHA reference consensus standards for compliance? 

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