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Differences between ANSI and OSHA


The death of American manufacturing has been greatly exaggerated. Despite what you may have heard, the United States is still an industrial powerhouse, accounting for an astounding 20%+ of world manufacturing as of 2012 – more than China, more than India, vastly more than Taiwan, and more than the entire EU.

With such a titanic output, the U.S. has to work hard to keep its many industrial, manufacturing and farm workers safe. The complexity and scope of American industry means that ensuring that all workers are protected from accidents is a bigger task than it would be in areas with relatively uniform, rudimentary tools and methods. At the same time, it's not always appropriate to put top-down regulations in place. Government doesn't always have the industrial expertise to invent safety or manufacturing standards, especially in cutting-edge fields.

In 1970, Richard Nixon signed The Occupational Safety and Health Act into law, creating the Agency that bears the same acronym the next year. OSHA remains in place to ensure that employers have the best possible safety practices in place, and to regulate workers' contact with dangerous conditions. Since its founding, OSHA has set out guidelines for everything from how to deal with dangerous levels of noise to hard hat usage and confined space procedures.

Although OSHA does have the power to seek criminal prosecution, it does so very rarely. More often, it conducts inspections, fining businesses that are out of compliance (or levying fines on companies that suffer from avoidable workplace accidents).

Businesses often complain about the procedures that OSHA introduces, but a 1995 study by the Office of Technology Assessment found that businesses spend less time and money on compliance than they report. Instead of sending officious Federal agents from business to business, OSHA's policy is to provide free guidance for companies that ask for it through the Compliance Assistance program – and while those companies are in the process of educating themselves about the standards that they should be meeting, OSHA does not prosecute or fine them. (As of 2009, it only had 2,335 employees, so sending inspectors from door to door is not usually a viable option regardless.) To OSHA, prevention is worth more than cure.

The American National Standards Institute (or ANSI) fulfills similar functions to OSHA in some ways, but differs in both its methods and original purpose. ANSI was founded in 1918 when several societies of engineers banded together to reduce inefficiency in manufacturing processes by compiling standard methods and materials.

In contrast with OSHA, ANSI is purely voluntary, but its standards have been widely adopted in the private sector. These standards were put to the test in 1941 in particular, when the public sector had to ramp up production of war goods. After World War II, ANSI became America's representative on the International Standards Organization (ISO), which standardizes industrial material, but also signage and symbologies.

Today, ANSI-compliant signage is a common feature in both public and private businesses, and it's easily recognized by its frequent use of four safety terms, each denoting different levels and types of risk: Notice, Caution, Warning and Danger.