Contributed by Bob Kozickie, Technical Sales Support Manager

Governments have established regulations and standards within the workplace in order to provide the highest degree of safety for all employees. These regulations and standards have various degrees of authority depending on whether they are statutory, consensus, or 3rd party documents. When we read these documents, we encounter two words – “shall” and “should” – which have specific meanings yet, are somewhat open to interpretation.

The OSHA Standards is a Statutory Document, and the first set of regulations which must be adhered to in order to maintain compliancy. All requirements that must be followed within the standard are defined by the word “shall”. The term “shall” is clearly defined by OSHA as mandatory. This means that the regulation as stated within the Part Number and Subpart Title as a requirement must be followed exactly as written. (This will also hold true for all consensus documents which OSHA commonly references such as The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).)

An example of the use of “shall” can be found in OSHA Standard Number 1910.184(c)(1):  Slings that are damaged or defective shall not be used. 

The term “should” on the other hand has a more ambiguous meaning. “Should” is defined by OSHA as meaning a recommendation. According to, “should” is a word that is used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness. Adherence to a “should” reference is not necessarily required; however, it is most beneficial to be followed unless a rational conditional or contingent reason is given for that portion of the standard to not be followed.

When reviewing Standards and Regulations, the word “shall” is far more common, but it’s important to know the difference between these two words.