On the last day of February and the first day of March, a group of high-powered safety and health representatives will meet in Boca Raton, Fla., for another round of meetings aimed at drafting voluntary guidelines for occupational health and safety systems.

It will be at least another year before the group, organized as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z10 Committee, publishes a proposed standard for public comment. And final guidelines for how to document and audit safety basics such as employee involvement and management commitment are years away.

But there's a sense that this sweeping standards-setting effort is gaining steam. In the mid-1990s major U.S. corporations helped torpedo the idea of an ISO safety and health rule (most already have safety and health management systems in place), but since then other standards have launched. The British 18000 health and safety systems standard is being aggressively marketed as a global benchmark, and last year the International Labor Office released its own guidelines on occupational safety and health management systems (ILO/OSH 2001).

ILO offering

Multinationals might find the ILO standard hard to ignore - it's set up as a template for national guidelines and is intended to provide the main framework for occupational health and safety rules in some countries.

ANSI Z10 committee members have agreed to use the ILO document as a reference tool. The ILO standard covers these elements:

  • OSH policy;
  • Worker participation;
  • Responsibility and accountability;
  • Competence and training;
  • OSH management system documentation;
  • Communication;
  • Initial review;
  • System planning, development, implementation;
  • OSH objectives;
  • Hazard prevention: prevention and control measures; management of change; emergency prevention, preparedness and response; procurement; contracting;
  • Performance monitoring and measurement;
  • Investigation of worker-related injuries, ill health, disease and incidents and their impact on safety and health performance;
  • Audit;
  • Management review;
  • Preventive and corrective action;
  • Continual improvement.

One ANSI committee member says the group's work is accelerating now that the philosophical debate over the need for any programmatic standard has been replaced by the need to come up with a standard U.S. companies can live with in a shrinking world. No wonder the committee's last meeting attracted representatives from heavy hitters like: Siemens, Anheuser-Busch, Caterpillar, Bristol-Myers Squibb, IBM, General Motors, ExxonMobil, Dow, ITT, Alcoa, Deere, Conoco and Baxter Healthcare. The National Association of Manufacturers also had a seat at the table.

Unions are in on the action, too. The group is co-chaired by a United Auto Workers safety official, and the AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers and United Food and Commercial Workers are also represented.

With OSHA silent on the standards front, professional groups are tracking the ANSI effort. Participants include the American Industrial Hygiene Association (which serves as the committee secretariat), the American Society of Safety Engineers, and organizations representing occupational physicians and nurses.

Getting the committee's 46 members to iron out the details will take long enough, but one member predicts the real storm will kick up once a proposal is made public.