OSHA Standards vs. Cal/OSHA Standards: What to Know

General information

When it comes to workplace safety rules in the United States that serve to protect workers, there are two types: OSHA standards and Cal/OSHA standards.

OSHA standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States is an agency placed under the authority of the US Department of Labor. In compliance with the OSH Act (Occupational Safety and Health Act), American employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workstation.

Cal/OSHA standards

For their part, Cal/OSHA standards come from an agency placed under the authority of the State of California. They were approved in 1973. Since then, the Cal/OSHA agency, which administers it, has worked to publish stricter standards than the basic federal OSHA standards, which have no federal equivalent.

Comparison of the different standards


  • Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP)

California’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program, which dates back to 1990, has served as a model for OSHA and is currently being assessed for potential adoption at the federal level. This program’s rules require employers to develop and implement a written safety and health program tailored to their work activity.


  • Fall prevention

According to OSHA, employees who work on a horizontal or vertical surface with an uncovered edge located 1.8 m (6 ft.) or more above a lower level must be protected from falls with guardrail systems, safety nets, or personal fall protection devices. Cal/OSHA has the same criteria for the prevention of falls from heights but goes further, especially with profession-specific rules. For example, there are specific standards for cleaning windows at heights.


  • Permissible exposure limits (PELs) for air contaminants

While OSHA still uses the same PELs from 1970 for most substances, Cal/OSHA continuously examines them to determine if they need to be changed. They have been modified around twenty times. The PELs for the solvent acetone are just one example. The Cal/OSHA PEL for acetone is 500 ppm (parts per million) compared to the federal OSHA standard of 1,000 ppm.


  • Mines and tunnels

While Cal/OSHA has regulatory power over extraction, concentration, and finishing operations, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) only covers extraction and concentration. When it comes to tunnel safety, Cal/OSHA goes even further than MSHA by requiring that all tunnel construction projects have a safety representative and a gas tester approved by the State of California.


  • Diacetyl

To regulate the exposure of employees to diacetyl, which is a food flavouring, Cal/OSHA adopted a standard in 2010 that has no comparable federal standard. Significant exposure to diacetyl can cause lung problems and obliterative bronchiolitis, which is a permanent and irreversible lung condition.


  • Heat stress

With regard to heat stress, in recent years, the federal OSHA has conducted risk prevention campaigns, but Cal/OSHA has gone further with a specific regulation on the prevention of heat-related illnesses for outdoor workers. However, the federal government is working on a more or less equivalent standard for indoor heat risks.


  • Repetitive motion injuries (RMIs)

At the end of the ’90s, the State of California adopted a standard that applies to any job, process, or operation in which several employees are likely to suffer from an RMI, which has no equivalent on the federal level. Each employer subject to this standard must have a program that includes a workplace assessment, exposure monitoring, and employee training.


  • Prevention of workplace violence in the health sector

Cal/OSHA has a regulation that requires employers in the health sector to implement prevention plans and safety measures to protect their workers from violence in their workplace. At the federal level, there is a similar standard in progress for industry in general.


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Cal/OSHA, guardrails