How often have you heard that a scaffold is OSHA approved? Or perhaps a scaffold component is OSHA approved? Have you ever seen an advertisement that claims that OSHA approved the product? How about a training program that is OSHA approved? There’s a lot of confusion out there about what OSHA is doing. There shouldn’t be since OSHA doesn’t approve anything that is scaffold related. That’s right, OSHA doesn’t approve any scaffold products, designs, programs, or procedures.
In spite of what some people think, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, is not a licensing facility like your friendly Driver’s License Bureau. OSHA’s obligation is to encourage employers to provide a safe work place for employees. To that extent, OSHA may review a product or procedure for evaluation but will not approve that product or procedure. Keep in mind that when the United States Congress passed the law in 1970 that made it necessary to establish the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the concern was that too many employees were getting hurt on the job. Unfortunately, since that time, myths and misconceptions about OSHA’s mandate have developed. Included is the misconception about OSHA approval.
A fine example and one that surfaces frequently, is the use of the word “OSHA” on a product, and more specifically, wood plank used for scaffold platforms. This is meant to signify that the plank, when used in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, will be in compliance with the applicable OSHA standards. Frankly, that’s not a bad idea. Many companies recognize the value of this representation and stamp OSHA on their products. Unfortunately, over time, the compliance implication was lost and users began assuming that OSHA must have approved, or at least endorsed the product. This, of course, led to individuals in a position of authority to begin demanding OSHA approved products. In their eagerness to comply with the request, some uninformed suppliers began stamping OSHA on their products in the mistaken belief that compliance with OSHA meant approval by OSHA. Of course, at the same time, unscrupulous suppliers began stamping “OSHA APPROVED” on the product, daring OSHA, or anybody else for that matter, to challenge the claim. OSHA hardly has sufficient funding to enforce the regulations that already exist, much less go after somebody claiming something that isn’t true. All of this leads us to the situation that exists today.
It is the responsibility of the employer and the employee, not the product supplier, to comply with the OSHA standards. That would be you and me. There is no doubt that it is in your best interest to only use products that have been manufactured in compliance with the applicable OSHA standards. Using the correct product will make it easier for you to comply with the standards. For example, using a portable extension ladder that is manufactured in compliance with the applicable OSHA standards will assure you that it is strong enough to support you. However, that product will not require you to use it properly. Proper use is up to you. It is up to you to have the proper angle on the ladder and it is up to you not to overload the ladder and it is up to you to climb the ladder properly, all of which are safety issues that are addressed in the OSHA standards. It is you who must comply with the standards since the manufacturer has no control over how you will use the product. In fact, neither does OSHA have any control over how you will use the product. So how can OSHA approve it?
The bottom line is that you and I are responsible for using products correctly. Carefully read the stickers on the scaffold products you are using. They are there for a very good reason; the manufacturer is warning you about potential hazards when using the product incorrectly. Note that there may be a reference to OSHA but it will say something like “manufactured in accordance with applicable OSHA standards,” or perhaps, “this product will be in compliance with applicable standards when used properly.” The manufacturer is helping assist you in complying.
What about those products that shamelessly claim OSHA approval? Ask for official written documentation. Let me know if you get it! For those manufacturers who stamp OSHA on their products, it should be an unwritten obligation to manufacture products that are of the highest quality at the best possible price. Your obligation is to use the products safely, in compliance with the applicable OSHA standards. You may not be approved but it will feel like it.