Enforcement and Inspection

Need a Variance from an OSHA? Here’s How to Get It

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A variance is an alternative procedure of compliance with some part of a safety and health standard, which is granted to an employer by OSHA. For example:

  • You are not able to comply fully and on time with a new safety or health standard because of a shortage of personnel, materials, or equipment.
  • You prefer to use methods, equipment, or facilities that you believe protect workers as well as or better than OSHA standards.

Variances can be temporary, permanent, experimental, or national defense. See the Rules of Practice standard (29 CFR 1905.10, 11, 12) for complete information about variances.

Commitment Required

Obtaining a variance necessitates a major commitment on your part. You must be able to assure OSHA that the variance will be at least as protective of employee safety and health as the underlying requirement.

This level of commitment is well illustrated by Keystone Steel and Wire Company of Peoria, Illinois, which requested that OSHA grant a variance from a regulation that prohibits the use of compressed air to clean floors and other surfaces where lead and arsenic particulates accumulate.

Keystone’s production process includes melting scrap steel in furnaces. It requires the use of two overhead cranes to haul the scrap to the furnaces and transport the molten steel for further processing. During melting, fugitive emissions containing trace amounts of lead and arsenic accumulate inside the motor housings of the cranes. To prevent electric arcing, Keystone must remove the accumulated particulates from inside the crane-motor housings.

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Support Materials

To support its request for a variance, Keystone submitted extensive material to ensure that the required level of protection would be met, including:

  • An engineering plan that employed a compressed-air vacuum-containment system that maintained negative pressure inside the motor housings, ensuring that the exhaust airflow leaving the enclosure exceeded the inflow of compressed air. The system would be inspected at least annually and defective parts would be repaired or replaced.
  • A personal-exposure monitoring plan for workers during the entire period they used compressed air to clean crane motors. Breathing-zone samples for lead and arsenic would be submitted to a certified analytical laboratory.
  • Biological monitoring of every worker involved in motor-cleaning operations within 30 days after the cleaning. To establish a baseline blood-lead level, biological monitoring would be performed on every new worker before the worker engages in a cleaning operation.
  • Written notification provided to affected workers of their individual personal exposure and biological monitoring results. OSHA would be informed whenever monitoring results were above action levels for lead or arsenic.
  • A training program for workers before they began crane motor-cleaning operations, as well as yearly refresher training. Training would be documented and training records would be maintained.
  • Implementation of a respiratory protection program.
  • Assurance that supervisors would observe and enforce applicable safe-work practices while the cleaning takes place.

OSHA incorporated these and related measures as requirements into the Keystone variance.

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How to Apply for a Variance

The procedure for applying for a variance depends on whether your worksite is under federal or state jurisdiction.

Federal jurisdiction. Forward variance applications to the U.S. Department of Labor/OSHA, Office of Technical Programs and Coordination Activities, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, N-3655, Washington, DC 20210. (The following states are under federal jurisdiction: AL, AR, CO, DC, DE, FL, GA, ID, KS, LA, MA, ME, MO, MS, MT, ND, NE, NH, OK, OH, PA, RI, SD, TX, WI, WV. The private sector in the following states is also under federal jurisdiction: CT, IL, NJ, and NY.) 

State jurisdiction. Address variance applications to your state OSHA office. (The following states operate under their own OSHA-approved job safety and health programs and cover state and local government employees as well as private sector employees: AK, AZ, CA,, HI, IA,, IN, KY, MD, MI, MN, NC, NM, NV, OR, SC, TN, UT, VA, VT, WA, WY. In the following states only the public sector is covered by state plans: CT, IL, NJ, and NY.)

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