International standards have a significant impact on our daily lives. They help ensure you are able to withdraw money from an ATM, that the food you eat meets quality standards, and that the batteries you purchase actually fit into your electronic devices. One of the important goals of international standards is compatibility and interoperability of devices and systems across the world. Standards make life easier, safer, and more convenient. International standards also have a significant, but often unacknowledged, impact on the practice of industrial hygiene. As business and commerce has become increasingly global, standard development initiatives have become global as well. There are an increasing number of international standards dealing with OHS topics such as fire prevention, chemical safety, hearing protection, indoor air quality, ergonomics, machine safety, and environmental sustainability. International standards play an important role in defining societal expectations and in establishing the standard of care expected of OHS professionals. INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATIONS The most recognized international stand​​ards development organization (SDO) is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organization. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, ISO is made up of 162 member bodies that are nationally recognized SDOs. ISO’s mission is “to promote the development of standardization and related activities in the world with a view to facilitating the international exchange of goods and services.” The ISO member body for the United States is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). According to the ISO website, ANSI participates in 618 ISO Technical Committees. ANSI accomplishes its standards development mission by accrediting other organizations within the U.S. to act as standards developers. These SDOs are approved by ANSI as the administrator of a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for a particular ISO standards development activity. For example, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is the TAG administrator for the development of the ISO 45001 standard, Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements with guidance for use. Once a standard is finalized and published as an ISO standard, a determination is made by the relevant TAG whether the standard should be adopted by ANSI as an American National Standard. In this way, ISO standards become ANSI standards. ISO has published more than 20,000 standards covering a wide range of subjects from acoustics to zinc alloys. ISO standards are typically developed by either a Technical Committee, which has a portfolio of related standards, or a Project Committee, which is authorized to develop a single standard. For example, TC 207 manages 33 different standards, whereas PC 283, the committee tasked with developing the occupational health and safety management system standard, has only a single standard under development. There are more than 250 Technical Committees within ISO, each working within a defined subject matter area. Another international organization that develops documents with a direct impact on the practice of industrial hygiene is the International Labor Organization (ILO). Also headquartered in Geneva, ILO’s mission is “to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues.” As part of this mission, ILO develops a variety of documents focused on occupational health and safety (or occupational safety and health, as ILO prefers). These documents include conventions, recommendations, guidelines, codes of practice, and other informative documents and pamphlets. ILO’s primary standards development effort is the drafting of conventions, which are intended to be ratified by the member states of ILO. ILO tracks the ratifications of its various conventions on its website. (The ILO website has additional information about ILO’s OHS conventions and the countries that have ratified them.) ISO and ILO are very different organizations (see Table 1). They have very different missions, standards development processes, and methods of decision-making. In recent years, an increasing number of organizations have characterized themselves as international SDOs. Some of these are U.S.-based organizations, such as ASTM International and Underwriters Laboratory (UL), that have expanded into international standards development. Also, some newly formed organizations have been established specifically to have an international impact. For example, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) develops sustainability reporting guidelines that are intended for international use.
How Standards Affect the Practice of Industrial Hygiene
International Standards:
Table 1. Comparison of ILO and ISO
IMPACTS ON INDUSTRIAL HYGIENE Although international standards are developed as voluntary consensus standards, conformance with them does not always stay voluntary.
Requirements for certification of conformance to consensus standards requirements are pervasive in business contracts and often find their way into export and import requirements. For example, certification of conformance to ISO 9001 is a common contract requirement. Conformance to labeling and machine safety requirements are common export requirements that may limit where a product can be sold. Consensus standards are also often referenced in national regulations and used as a basis for developing both national laws and international treaties. For example, the ISO greenhouse gas standards serve as a basis for requirements for reporting greenhouse gas emissions. Three types of standards can impact the practice of industrial hygiene: product standards, practice and process standards, and management system and business process standards. Product standards. These standards establish specifications for the products we rely on as OHS professionals. Examples include international standards specifying performance criteria for personal protective equipment such as hard hats, glasses, gloves, and respirators. Other examples include standards setting out performance criteria for fire arrest devices, air monitoring equipment, and audiometric test equipment. In ISO alone there are hundreds of standards, many of which include safety-related criteria, to ensure product safety. ISO even has a guide for its standards developers that addresses how safety is to be addressed in ISO standards: ISO/IEC Guide 51, Safety aspects – Guidelines for their inclusion in standards. OHS practice and process standards. International SDOs, including ISO and ILO, have increasingly moved into the development of practice and process consensus standards. Examples include standards that specify requirements for employee training, use of statistical methods, ergonomic evaluations, machine safety assessments, risk assessment methods, and indoor air quality evaluations. These standards are likely to have a direct impact on the practice of industrial hygiene because they can be used to establish the standard of care expected of OHS professionals who practice in areas covered by such standards (for example, assessments of machine safety or evaluations of indoor air quality). ​ Management system and business process standards. In addition to standards specific to a particular activity, international organizations are also increasingly developing standards that are intended to impact how organizations are structured, operated, and governed. Examples of these standards include the ISO standard on risk management and social responsibility, as well as the 20-plus ISO management system standards. These standards prescribe business terminology, specifications for data and document management systems, processes to be used for addressing problems (that is, nonconformities), and even the roles and accountabilities expected of senior management.
In many cases, professionals are not aware of the extent to which their activities will be affected by these management system standards. For example, ISO standards define what it means to be professionally competent, the requirements for conducting an acceptable risk assessment, and the data fields that should to be included in a corrective action software system. PARTICIPATION IN STANDARDS DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES There is a truism related to standards development: “Standards are written by those who show up.” In other words, standards are written by the individuals who make the effort to participate. There are several avenues open for participation. You can submit comments on a standard during the public comment period that is a part of the development process for every ISO standard. You can also join the U.S. Technical Advisory Group associated with a particular standards development initiative and assist in developing U.S. positions. For those who want a more hands-on level of participation, you can volunteer to be an international delegate or expert participating in the development of an ISO standard with others from around the world. Over the years, AIHA has made a significant contribution to the development of standards that affect the practice of industrial hygiene. From 1980 through 2012, AIHA was an ANSI-approved standards development organization. AIHA was the original administrator of Z10 for the development of the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems standard. In 2012, AIHA transferred the administration of these standards development efforts to ASSE. In part, this transfer was done to allow AIHA to focus on participating in new standards development initiatives rather than simply administering the revision and updates of existing standards. As discussed above, the number and range of international standards is expanding rapidly. In addition, the role consensus standards play in establishing requirements on a global basis is changing. A challenge for AIHA going forward is identifying which standards development efforts it should participate in and the extent of the participation that is appropriate given AIHA’s resources, organizational requirements, and the needs and expectations of its membership. THEA DUNMIR​E, JD, CIH, CSP, is the president of ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc., where she specializes in helping organizations implement management systems. She can be reached on her blog about management system standards.
AIHA’s Standard of Care Project The AIHA Content Strategy Portfolio Recommendations FY 2015 document included, as one of the six areas of AIHA interest, the establishment of a global standard of care for evaluating and protecting worker health and safety. The concerns identified by AIHA related to this area of interest include the globalization of industrial hygiene practice and the need for international standards of care on the part of multinational organizations and industrial hygiene practitioners, particularly in developing countries. AIHA has tasked the development of a research report to provide details concerning the role that international standards are already playing in creating a global standard of care for worker protection. An important part of this research report is identifying existing international standards that are relevant to the practice of industrial hygiene. That information will be used to help AIHA shape the standards and guidelines important to industrial hygiene.
Participation in ISO 45001 ISO has released a draft international standard (DIS) of ISO 45001, Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements with guidance for use. It will be available for public comment starting on Feb. 15, 2016. Importantly, ISO/DIS 45001 is also out for vote on whether this draft, as currently written, should be published as an international standard. That vote closes internationally on May 12, 2016. In deciding whether this draft should be published as a final standard, the members of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to PC 283 must answer the question, “Is this standard good enough?” In the initial round of comments on the draft standard, several members of the TAG raised significant concerns about the requirements set out in ISO/DIS 45001. These include an overarching concern that the standard is too complex and difficult to use for small and medium-sized organizations. Concerns have also been raised about a lack of flexibility in the requirements. Some TAG members feel that the standard is too focused on dictating in detail how organizations must go about protecting their workers rather than on clearly setting out the elements important for an OHS management system. Some have also raised concerns about a lack of alignment with ISO 14001:2015. This is a significant issue for organizations with integrated environmental and occupational health and safety management systems. More information about ISO/DIS 45001 and the public comment process is available on the AIHA website.