Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at

May 13, 1980

Mr. Paul M. Osborne
General Operations Manager
Eller Outdoor Advertising Co. of Colorado
Division of Combined Communications Corp.
P.O. Box 1468
Denver, Colorado 80201

Dear Mr. Osborne:

This is in response to your letter dated April 23, 1980, requesting a permanent variance from Section 1926.104(b) - Tie-Off Systems, of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations for Construction.

Your request should have been made under Section 1910.23(c)(1) of the General Industry Standards concerning the guarding of open-sided floors, platforms, and runways. Your operation is covered under the General Industry Standards rather than the Construction Regulations. The General Industry Standards do not have a section pertaining to tie-off systems, therefore, a variance is not required or applicable.

OSHA has determined that when a standard guardrail is not feasible because it would result in impairment of the work being performed alternate protection may be provided for employees. A tie-off system is acceptable as a method of meeting the intent of Section 1910.23(c)(1). A copy of OSHA Directive Number 75-40 is enclosed for your guidance.
(Note: This directive is archived.) (strikeout and underline corrections made on 02/28/2013)

The current standard, 29 CFR 1910.23(c)(1), requires platforms and runways 4 feet or more above adjacent floor or ground level be guarded by a standard railing or the equivalent as specified in 29 CFR 1910.23(e)(3). However, under specific circumstances, OSHA could consider alternative means of fall protection as a de minimis condition rather than a violation of the standard. de minimis conditions are deviations from the standards that have no direct or immediate relationship to safety or health. Under OSHA's de minimis policy, an employer may comply with a proposed standard or amendment, or a consensus standard, rather than the standard in effect at the time of the inspection. With de minimis conditions, OSHA does not issue citations or require abatement.

On May 24, 2010, OSHA published a proposed rule on Working-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems) (75 FR 28862 Proposed paragraph (b)(10) of §1910.28 has requirements for outdoor advertising (billboards). Proposed §1910.28(b)(10) would require "[t]he employer to ensure that:

(i) For climbs on the fixed ladder of up to 50 feet (15.2 m), or heights of up to 65 feet (19.8 m) from grade, each employee who climbs a combination of a portable and a fixed ladder wears a body belt or body harness equipped with an appropriate 18 inch (46 cm) rest lanyard as a means to tie off to the fixed ladder as required by subpart I of [29 CFR Part 1910].
(ii) Each employee who climbs a combination of a portable and a fixed ladder where the length of the fixed ladder climb exceeds 50 feet (15.2 m), or where the ladder ascends to heights exceeding 65 feet (19.8 m) from grade is protected through the installation of an appropriate ladder safety system for the entire length of the fixed ladder climb.
(iii) Each employee who climbs fixed ladders equipped with ladder safety systems uses the systems properly, and follows appropriate procedures for inspection and maintenance of the systems.
(iv) All ladder safety systems installed on fixed ladders are properly maintained and used.
(v) Each employee who routinely climbs fixed ladders undergoes training and demonstrates the physical capability to perform the necessary climbs safely. Each employee must satisfy the criteria for qualified climber found in Sec. 1910.29(h).
(vi) Each employee keeps both hands free of tools or material when ascending or descending a ladder."

Upon the employee reaching his or work position, proposed §1910.28(b)(10)(vii) would require an employer to "ensure protection of each employee by an appropriate fall protection system . . .." Note that under proposed §1910.21(b), Definitions, "[f]all protection means any equipment, device, or system that prevents an employee from experiencing a fall from elevation or that mitigates the effect of such fall." Although the use of body belts would be acceptable for travel restriction under proposed §1910.28(b)(10)(vii), OSHA strongly encourages employers to use body harnesses in place of body belts, especially where falling from the platform is a possibility because they mitigate the effect of such fall.

You should also be aware that, as part of a rulemaking to revise Subpart D of 29 CFR 1910, OSHA has proposed revising subpart I to address fall protection Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). In subpart I, OSHA has proposed to add new specific performance and use requirements for personal fall protection equipment. To be effective, fall protection systems must be strong enough to provide the necessary fall protection and capable of absorbing fall impact so that forces imposed on employees when stopping falls do not result in injury or death. The proposed rule for subpart I, to be codified at §1910.140, (Fall protection), would apply whenever another standard requires or allows the use of fall protection PPE 75 FR 28864.

Our technical staff has reviewed the sketch of the poster panel submitted with your application. It has been determined that the eye bolts should be relocated to a position that would be at least waist high for the employee's safety body belt and lanyard and at least shoulder high for the employee's body harness. Waist high should be the lowest location in use, and shoulder high should be the highest, to reduce the distance an employee would fall from the platform in the event of an accident.

Affected employees should be notified of this decision in the same manner they were notified of your request for a variance.

No further action will be taken on your request for a variance. If I can be of further assistance, please contact my office at (202) 523-7144. If there are further questions, please feel free to contact the Directorate of Enforcement Programs at (202) 693-2100.


James J. Concannon Director Office of Variance Determinations