OSHA website provides expanded information on variance procedures

November 2012, Vol. 67, No. 11

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has enhanced its variances web page to improve public understanding of the variance approval process and increase access to the agency’s decisions on variance requests. The page now lists both denied and approved requests and provides information to employers on submitting formal requests for a variance from an OSHA workplace standard.

A variance is a regulatory action that permits an employer to deviate from the requirements of an OSHA standard under specified conditions. A variance does not provide an outright exemption from a standard, except in cases involving national defense.

Employers can request a variance for many reasons, including not being able to fully comply on time with a new safety or health standard because of a shortage of personnel, materials, or equipment. Employers may prefer to use methods, equipment, or facilities that they believe protect workers as well as, or better than, OSHA standards. OSHA may grant a variance to employers when they can prove that their proposed methods, conditions, practices, operations, or processes provide workplaces that are at least as safe and healthful as the workplaces provided by the OSHA standards from which they are seeking the variance.

Until recently, only approved variance cases were available on the web page. The newly available information about denied applications illustrates which requirements businesses have failed to meet when applying for a variance. OSHA’s variance web page also provides background on variance rules and instructions on how to apply for a variance.