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In many types of litigation, once the basic facts of the case are determined, there is still the matter of determining whether or not the act was preventable by following generally recognized procedures or standards. Issues of negligence and liability frequently turn on such questions, and there are many experts making a good living testifying on what those standards are. Whether you are retaining or deposing an expert, or simply considering whether to take on a particular case, you may want to read for yourself what is the accepted or regulated standard on some issue.
For work-related safety issues, a good place to start is the OSHA website – www.osha.gov. What appears to be a single website is actually maintained by two different OSHA locations, their headquarters in Washington, DC, and their Technical Center in Salt Lake City. As you browse the site you are seamlessly switching back and forth between those two locations.
With 20,000 documents and files on the site, it may take you a little while at first to locate exactly what you are looking for. There are links to the search engine and site index located on each page, so no matter where you are in the site you can always access these. From the home page, you have immediately access to OSHA regulations, statistics and compliance information as well as a host of other information.
To find the wording of a particular standard or how it has been interpreted, just click on the “Standards” or “Interpretations” links from the home page. For proposed standards, click on the “Federal Register” link. Clicking on the Statistics and Inspection Data link from their home page will take you into an interactive database of all the closed inspections they have done over the past 20 years. If you want to know if your client or the opposition has ever failed an OSHA inspection, this is the place to go. Once there, you can search for inspections done at a particular establishment, find data on all the inspections done in a certain industry, find out which regulations are most commonly violated by a particular industry and review safety statistics.
The OSHA regulations are structured so that states may set up their own programs to handle work-related safety issues, and about half the states have done so. See listing at bottom of this page for links to the individual state agency websites.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
www.cdc.gov/niosh While not a regulatory agency, NIOSH was created by the same congressional act as OSHA and OSHA frequently cites NIOSH research. Their hundreds of on-line publications provide information on everything from ergonomics for meat packing plant workers to indoor air quality. Among the on-line services they provide is TOXNET, through which you can search four toxicological databases, including the Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) listing information on over 4500 potentially hazardous chemicals and their regulatory requirements. Toxnet.nlm.nih.gov
American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
www.ansi.org This group oversees the work of 175 different entities working on the development of standards in the United States. There are currently over 13,000 approved standards, many of them relating to safety. They offer nearly 600 publications relating to approved safety standards through their online bookstore. From the site’s home page, click on “Standards Info” and then search for the item you want.
American Society for Testing and Materials
www.astm.org The ASTM is a non-profit standards organization comprised of 135 committees operating in different fields. Each year they publish about 10,000 standards in a set of 72 volumes. You also have the choice of searching for a particular standard and downloading it.
Society of Automotive Engineers
www.sae.org/servlets/index The SAE sets standards for ground as well as aerospace vehicles. Their sets of standards, including their ones on accident reconstruction and safety, may be purchased for download, in print or on CD-ROM.
National Fire Protection Association
www.nfpa.org The NFPA is most famous for producing the National Electrical Code, which has been widely adopted throughout the country. They also produce standards or codes in other areas such as hazardous materials handling, parking structures and airports. Their standards are currently only available in print or on CD, but they will be available for download in the future.
www.ul.com Underwriters Laboratories, in addition to setting safety standards, tests products for safety and certifies them when they meet UL standards. With 14 testing centers in 10 countries, and another 171 inspection centers in 74 countries, in 1998 alone they evaluated nearly 90,000 different products. The standards they produce are available through ulstandardsinfonet.ul.com
https://assist.dla.mil/online/start This is a free service through which you can access 100,000 Department of Defense standards.
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration
http://www.nhtsa.gov/cars/rules/import/fmvss/index.html This is the location to find the number of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard you are interested in. You can then go to the Government Printing Office’s site and access the electronic form of the Code of Federal Regulations (www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/). From there, you can go to Title 49, Transportation, Part 571 and access the full text of the standard. Title 49 also contains transportation-related regulations of other federal agencies such as the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration.
www.nssn.org NSSN is a database set up by ANSI which allows a simultaneous search of private and governmental standards. They provide access to about a quarter of a million standards references from 600 entities worldwide. When you find a document that you are interested in, you will be connected to the website of the organization that provides it.
International Organization for Standardization – ISO
www.iso.ch This organization, based in Geneva, is responsible for establishing internationally accepted standards. It is the international equivalent of ANSI (ANSI is a member of ISO.) They currently have 139 publications on approved international safety standards.
Material Safety Data Sheets
There are several sites available which provide access to the known risks of hundreds of thousands of chemicals and the proper safety procedures for handling them. Two of the better sites are the ones from Cornell University (http://www.ehs.cornell.edu/) and the Vermont Safety Information Resources, Inc. (www.hazard.com). You can find information listed under both the chemical name and the manufacturer’s product name.
New Mexico http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/Ohsb_Website/
North Carolina http://www.nclabor.com/osha/osh.htm
South Carolina http://www.scosha.llronline.com/