OSHA Basics: Incorporation by Reference (IBR)

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Our OSHA Basics series of articles explains basic, fundamental, and important topics related to OSHA and OSHA compliance.

In this OSHA Basics article, we're going to explain to you what "incorporation by reference" means. Incorporation by reference is also sometimes known by the acronym IBR.

Incorporation by Reference

In many cases, an OSHA standard simply states a rule, spelling out the compliance requirement word-for-word.

In other cases, the OSHA standard won't spell out the compliance requirement every time, but will instead say the employer must follow the rules set out in a different document, such as a consensus standard created by an organization such as ANSI.

This situation, in which an OSHA standard essentially says "do what it says to do in this other document," is known as incorporation by reference, which is sometimes abbreviated as IBR.

Here's how OSHA puts it in 1910.6 (the general industry standard:

The standards of agencies of the U.S. Government, and organizations which are not agencies of the U.S. Government which are incorporated by reference in this part, have the same force and effect as other standards in this part.

And they say the exact same thing in 1926.6 (the construction standard):

The standards of agencies of the U.S. Government, and organizations which are not agencies of the U.S. Government which are incorporated by reference in this part, have the same force and effect as other standards in this part.

Go here for a list of what's incorporated by reference in the 1910 general industry standards.

Go here for a list of what's incorporated by reference in the 1926 construction standards.

"Shalls" and "Shoulds" in Documents Incorporated By Reference

Many times, one of these documents/standards that's incorporated by reference into an OSHA standard will have columns on the left that include the word "shall" and columns on the right that include a word such as "should" or "may."

Shall means you must do it. May means it's not required, but may be a good idea.

That's what OSHA is getting at when, in discussing IBR, they say: "Only the mandatory provisions (i.e., provisions containing the word "shall" or other mandatory language) of standards incorporated by reference are adopted as standards under the Occupational Safety and Health Act."

What does this mean to you? If an OSHA standard incorporates another standard or document by reference, and if that incorporated standard includes a mandatory ("shall") section and an optional ("should") section, you're only required to comply with the mandatory section.

Conclusion: Incorporation by Reference

If you found this "OSHA Basics" article on incorporation by reference useful, you may also want to check out some of the following articles:

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