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Article on Z10 Standard

To learn more about how the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA, Z10 Secretariat) Z10 Standard “Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Management Systems” will affect the future of workplace safety and health, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) spoke to three representatives from the Z10 committee, Don Jones, Kathy Seabrook and Jim Smith, who each contributed significantly to the development of this standard.

The Z10 standard covers the following topics:

  • Scope, Purpose and Application
  • Definitions
  • Management Leadership and Employee Participation
  • Planning
  • Implementation and Operation
  • Evaluation and Corrective Action
  • Management Review

Now that the ANSI/AIHA Z10 Standard “Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Management Systems” has received final approval, many have begun to predict how this performance-related standard, which helps companies to integrate occupational health and safety management into their overall business management systems, will impact safety and health in the workplace.

It may be too soon to determine exactly how the Z10 standard will affect companies of all sizes, but some believe that medium-size companies will see the most change. Jim Smith, one of two ASSE delegates on the Z10 committee, asserts that the standard will most influence those medium-size companies “that use traditional safety programs and delivery processes.” “It will be difficult for small-size companies to comply with some of the components in the Z10 standard because it does not identify a specific safety professional who is responsible for coordinating the standard. And I also think that larger companies will soon require smaller companies to comply with certain criteria in the Z10 standard before they consider doing business with them,” adds Smith.

Don Jones, representative for The Dow Chemical Company on the Z10 committee, also agrees that medium-size as well as large-size companies will benefit most from the Z10 standard. “Since small-size companies have less safety, health and environmental (SH&E) resources, I do not think the standard will be of much use to them,” says Jones.

How well the Z10 standard will be received depends largely on marketing and regulatory efforts, but the standard’s user-friendly design will definitely act as a major selling point. “The Z10 standard is well-organized, and it balances what is required and what is suggested. It also contains concise definitions, clear visuals, leftside/rightside readability and an annex of resources, which all make it a good process document for an OHS management system,” maintains Kathy Seabrook, the other ASSE delegate on the Z10 committee. In addition, Seabrook predicts that RABQSA International will eventually provide an accreditation program for auditor certification like it has done for other recognized quality and environmental standards.

Another advantage of the Z10 standard is the fact that it is a voluntary consensus standard. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulatory standards can take a minimum of 12 to 15 years to pass whereas, according to Smith, during the development of a voluntary consensus standard, different groups of experts and stakeholders from various industries meet “to create the best possible product in a short period of time.” Smith also feels that a voluntary consensus standard allows for more open discussion among representatives during the standard development process, and it curbs interference from lawyers and special interest groups. Voluntary consensus standards are also optional—companies can choose to use them. Jones believes that this feature alone increases the chance that the Z10 standard will be properly enforced.

However, Jones, Seabrook and Smith all agree that the Z10 standard cannot be properly enforced unless there is strong senior management leadership and commitment. Seabrook stresses that without appropriate “resources, focus, incentive and direction” from senior management, the Z10 standard will be impossible to implement. But, as Smith emphasizes, employee participation is also important in the effective implementation of the Z10 standard.

Meanwhile, many have questioned how the Z10 standard would be affected should an international OHS management system standard be introduced. It may be difficult to create an international standard since several different countries already have their own standards or are developing them, but Smith indicates that although the Z10 standard is not intended to become an international standard, an opportunity exists to produce an implementation guideline for the different standards worldwide. “If you are working in the United Kingdom, you could use the implementation guideline to follow their international standard. And conversely, if you are working in a country that does not have an OHS management systems standard, you could use the Z10 standard as a guideline. If you look at how the standard is written, you will see that it really is designed to move in the direction of an implementation guide,” proposes Smith.

Seabrook predicts that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will initiate an OHS management system standard while the Z10 standard will be used as a reference document. She also points out that “ISO 18001 continues to be recognized outside the United States, even for U.S. companies.”

Jones, however, believes that an international OHS management standard will have little effect on the use of the Z10 standard at U.S jobsites unless international companies require otherwise.

Many have also debated if government agencies will adopt the Z10 standard now that it is approved, especially since the Z10 committee did not write the standard to accommodate government agency regulations. Jones points out that the U.S. Congress and OSHA have wanted to pass SH&E legislation for a while, but it is uncertain if ANSI standards, such as Z10, can be adopted by reference. Smith anticipates that given the current political climate, government agencies will not reference the Z10 standard into a regulation, but he does feel that OSHA should consider using the standard for enforcement action.

OSHA appears to be one government agency that would benefit greatly from the Z10 standard since it was represented on the Z10 committee. Smith suggests that OSHA use the Z10 standard in place of their current safety management standard and that it apply components of the standard to its Voluntary Protection Programs (VPPs).

While advocating the Z10 standard to government agencies is of high priority, companies of all sizes should be encouraged to use the Z10 standard. “Even those companies that have their own OHS management system standards in place can use the Z10 standard as a tool to improve them. If companies compare their own standards to the Z10 on an annual basis, they can identify any gaps and close them, which will ultimately improve performance and reduce incident rates,” Jones recommends.

The Z10 standard’s potential to protect and improve worker safety and health is unlimited, but it will take a concerted effort among senior management and employees to ensure that the standard is successfully integrated into business management systems. And with the support of government agencies like OSHA, the impact of this standard on occupational safety and health will be nothing less than positive.

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