Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) proposed revision to its lockout/tagout standard deletes only one word, business representatives and manufacturers believe it will cause a drastic and detrimental change for employers. OSHA’s lockout/tagout rule requires employers to implement procedures to prevent worker injuries from machines that may start operating without the workers’ anticipation. Often, employers require workers to use locks on power switches when maintaining or servicing a machine and to remove the lock once the machine is ready to be used. This helps prevent workers’ limbs being crushed when a machine starts up. This standard, however, applies only when there is an unexpected energization or start-up of the machine. OSHA proposed on Oct. 4, 2016, to remove the word “unexpected” from the standard.

OSHA promotes this dramatic change as a “clarification,” and claims it intended for the standard to cover any start-up that occurs before removing a lockout/tagout device. Yet OSHA is aware that both a federal appeals court decision and an Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission final order have concluded that a machine that has a delay between being turned on and starting is not covered by the lockout/tagout standard because it does not start “unexpectedly.” Indeed, OSHA’s Compliance Directive contains detailed instructions on how OSHA can attempt to cite a company that uses this defense.

Dramatically changing the rule now will impose severe burdens on employers. First, employers would have to overhaul their safety procedures. Second, there would be substantial business costs in ensuring compliance with the new rules. Third, the change would ban devices that are being used to prevent machines from starting unexpectedly, including highly reliable modern control circuitry. Fourth, for international companies, the change marks a sharp divide between what is required in the United States and what is required abroad. As a result, companies using European machines would have to change their equipment intended for use in the United States.

Numerous interest groups, including the American National Standards Institute committee, have submitted feedback to OSHA, seeking a wholesale revision of the standard for comprehensive improvements, rather than deleting this single word that rewrites the standard in OSHA’s favor. The period for submitting comments closed on Dec. 5, 2016, and it is anticipated that OSHA will issue its new, final rule in the next several months.