Home / Resources / Consultant's Corner / Fall Protection: Don’t Take a Chance with Non-Compliance

Fall Protection: Don’t Take a Chance with Non-Compliance

The time has come for residential contractors and sub-contractors to stop making excuses about why they can’t provide positive conventional methods of fall protection (guardrail system, safety net system or personal fall arrest system) for all employees.

Jim Ulseth

Jim Ulseth
Safety and Health Consultant

With very few exceptions, employees of residential contractors must now comply with all of the same OSHA fall protection regulations as commercial contractors. Employees must be protected at all times when the fall distance is six feet or more. A silver lining is that new technology is available to help you comply with this regulation.

The Facts

Only one paragraph in 29 CFR 1926 Subpart M (www.osha.gov) gives a little wiggle room--and I do mean little--to the residential contractor from the commercial construction fall protection regulations.

Other than the exception noted in regulation 1926.501(b)(13), which states--

“Each employee engaged in residential construction activities 6 feet or more above lower levels shall be protected by guardrail system, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system unless another provision in paragraph (b) of this section provides for an alternative fall protection measure. Exception: When the employer can demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use these systems, the employer shall develop and implement a fall protection plan which meets the requirements of paragraph (k) of 1926.502”

--otherwise, the fall protection rule is the same for residential construction as it is for commercial construction.

Your election to apply a 1926.502(k) "fall protection plan" is a slippery slope. First of all, as a residential contractor, you must fit within the definitions of “residential,” and you must demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use conventional fall protection equipment. As a note: OSHA says it believes “there is a presumption that it is feasible and will not create a greater hazard to implement at least one of the above-listed fall protection systems.” Accordingly, the employer has the burden of establishing that it is appropriate to implement a fall protection plan that complies with 1926.502(k) for a particular workplace situation, in lieu of implementing any of those systems. If you feel you can do this, then you would need to comply with all 10 provisions of 1926.502(k).

Four other paragraphs in 29 CFR 1926.500 allow some exceptions for the employer to provide fall protection other than positive conventional methods. However; these rules allowing for non-conventional fall protection are exactly the same for residential construction as they are for commercial construction and include:

  • 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(2) for leading edge construction;
  • 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(9) for masons working a controlled access zone;
  • 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(10) for contractors when doing roofing work on low sloped roofs and;
  • 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(12) for employers engaged in pre-cast concrete erection (like parking garages).

These paragraphs apply equally to residential and commercial construction.

Why It’s Important to Act Now

Many new guardrail systems as well as personal fall protection systems, anchorage systems and retractable lanyard systems are on the market today that provide substantial fall protection for almost all conditions. In addition, OSHA’s website (http://www.osha.gov/) offers lots of information, compliance aids, resources, Quick Cards, E-Tools and Power Point presentations about fall protection to assist you in helping all of your workers to better understand fall prevention and to get everyone safely home to their family every day.

OSHA recognizes that fall protection accidents are, generally, complex events, involving a combination of factors. Accordingly, OSHA notes that a number of human and equipment-related issues must be addressed to protect employees from fall hazards. Among those issues are the following:

  • The need to know where protection is required,
  • The selection of fall protection systems that are appropriate for given situations,
  • The proper construction and installation of safety systems,
  • The proper supervision of employees,
  • The implementation of safe work procedures, and
  • The proper training in the selection, use, and maintenance of fall protection systems.

So, for residential construction activities, the time is now. Unless you are roofer on a low sloped roof [see 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(10)], a mason [see 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(9)], or you think you can prove that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard, and have a qualified person write up a detailed site-specific fall protection plan complying with all 10 provisions of 1926.502(k), then you must now comply with the entire 29 CFR 1926.500 Subpart M.

For more information about fall protection (both residential and commercial) or to request a free on-site consultation to assess your fall protection requirements, contact USF SafetyFlorida at (866) 273-1105, or visit us on-line at www.usfsafetyflorida.com. Services provided by the consultation program are free and confidential from OSHA enforcement


  • As part of OSHA’s continuing standards evaluation program and in response to public comments, a complete review of Subpart M was begun in 1977.
  • On November 25, 1986, OSHA proposed to revise fall protection requirements for the construction industry.
  • On August 9, 1994, OSHA issued its final rule on Fall Protection for the construction Industry (29 CFR 1926 Subpart M), which became effective on February 6, 1995. The final rule has been written in a more performance orientated language rather than specification orientated language.
  • On December 8, 1995, OSHA issued Instruction STD 3.1 - the Interim Fall Protection Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction. This addressed interim fall protection measures that OSHA determined would be acceptable for compliance with 1926.501(b)(13), (residential construction) during the rulemaking period, because the fall protection technology for home construction was not there yet.
  • On June 19, 1999, OSHA issued STD3-0.1A (a plain language revision of OSHA Instruction STD 3.1); OSHA’s interim enforcement policy on fall protection for certain residential construction activities which could be used without a prior showing of infeasibility or greater hazard and without a written, site-specific fall protection plan. Because there continues to be high numbers of fall-related fatalities in residential construction, on June 16,2011, OSHA rescinded STD3-0.1A. Compliance Guideline for Residential Construction STD 03-11-002 replaced STD3-0.1A, effective June 16, 2011. However, OSHA has delayed the enforcement date back until December 15, 2012.