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OSHA's Residential Interim Fall Protection Standard No Longer in Effect

Editor's note: On June 8, 2011, Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels announced a three-month phase-in enforcement period for the new Fall Protection in Residential Construction directive. The June 16-September 15 phase-in period will allow residential construction employers to come into compliance with the new directive.

Pat Stark

Pat Stark, CHST, PCG

Safety & Health Consultant

In December 2010 the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) rescinded the 1999 Interim Fall Protection Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction (STD 03-00-001). As of June 16, 2011 employers engaged in residential construction must comply with the CFR 29 1926.501(b)(13) Residential Construction which states:

"Each employee engaged in residential construction activities 6 feet or more above lower levels shall be protected by guardrail systems, a 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. Note: 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 which complies with 1926.502(k) for a particular workplace situation, in lieu of implementing any of those systems."

It is important to understand what OSHA is conveying in the above paragraph and in the cancellation of the STD 3.1 guidelines that have been in place since 1999. First, residential contractors need to truly review their projects and utilize the many available pre-engineered, manufactured options for conventional fall protection systems (i.e. guardrails and personal fall arrest systems or nets). Second, what has probably been missed or misinterpreted since the fall protection standard inception in 1990 is the "Note" section in the above paragraph (underlined for emphasis). OSHA expects that a residential employer (i.e. building contractor, framer, roofer, etc.) will first consider the use of conventional fall protection methods, not simply implement a fall protection plan when conventional fall protection may be feasible. The fall protection plan itself provides little in the way of actual fall protection or prevention. Third, probably one of the least reviewed OSHA words in the construction fall protection standard is "infeasible." All affected employers should understand how OSHA defines this word:

"Infeasible means that it is impossible to perform the construction work using a conventional fall protection system (i.e., guardrail system, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system) or that it is technologically impossible to use any one of these systems to provide fall protection (CFR 29 1926.500(b)."

OSHA uses the word impossible twice in that "infeasible" paragraph. With the many technological advances in fall protection—including residential fall protection systems—in the last 15 years, a contractor not researching the options for fall protection systems and utilizing these when necessary may find little grace during an OSHA inspection when no such systems are in place. And, most-importantly, employers not using conventional fall protection systems when feasible will not be providing the best means of protecting their workers from falls.

The OSHA website (www.osha.gov) has the December 16, 2010 Directive (STD 03-11-02) Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction available. This directive fully describes the significant changes and provides valuable information regarding OSHA’s definition of residential construction. This directive describes its purpose and clarifies OSHA’s citation policy regarding residential construction. OSHA will begin enforcing this policy as of 06/16/11.