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 http://www.osha.gov.
November 2, 1995
Mr. Richard Coble, Director
Center for Construction Safety
and Loss Control
University of Florida
M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of
Gainesville, Florida 32611-2032
Dear Mr. Coble:
This is in response to your letter of February 24 to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in which Mr. Brent Elliott requested several clarifications concerning construction safety be mailed to you.
Concerning personal fall protection on scaffolds, you state that, in general, the employer has a choice of personal fall arrest systems or guardrail systems for work on scaffolds, but safety net systems are not an option.
The current rule focuses on guardrails to protect workers on scaffolds. The 1986 proposal rule gave the employer more flexibility in the method of protection but even the proposal indicates there are some situations where personal fall arrest systems will not provide equivalent protection.
Personal fall arrest systems normally are not used on most types of scaffolds, although a certain limited number of specific types of scaffolds (such as two-point suspension scaffolds, boatswain's chairs, needle beam scaffolds, and float or ship scaffolds) require personal fall arrest systems, sometimes in addition to guardrails. Most of OSHA's scaffolding standards require the use of guardrails on the scaffolds. However, if employees are tied off to appropriate structures (noting that the scaffold itself may not be an appropriate structure), an OSHA citable hazard may not exist. Safety nets are an option during work on scaffolds, but the use of nets is usually not feasible or cost effective for these applications.
Concerning protection from falling objects from scaffolds, you state that falling object protection is only required if there is a falling object hazard, and protection from falling objects can be achieved by toeboards, canopies, or barricades. You also state that if tools or objects are being held by the worker, there is not a potential falling object hazard that a toe board would address.
Most of OSHA's existing scaffolding regulations require toe boards as a part of the guardrail system. However, if barricades or canopies are erected to address the falling object hazard, the use of toe boards would not be necessary. Under the 1986 proposed rule employers have some flexibility in choosing the means of providing falling object protection. The method chosen to protect employees from falling object hazards must effectively protect employees from the hazard. For example, there may be cases where the use of barricades or canopies would be protective. However, in other cases, such as in areas where employees are required to work below the scaffold, toeboards would be needed. If a scaffold is equipped with adequate toeboards, the employer would be in compliance with this requirement, even though an employee has tools in his hand or tool pouch.
Concerning mobile scaffolds, you state that if mobile scaffolds are engineered with a weighted base, a height/base ratio determined by a professional engineer could be used instead of strict compliance with the height/base ratio in the OSHA standards, which have not kept up with new technology or current ANSI standards. We concur.
If you have any questions, please call me or Dale Cavanaugh of my staff at (202)219-8136.
Roy F. Gurnham, P.E., J.D.
Office of Construction and Maritime