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NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.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

December 18, 1997

Mr. Dimitrios S. Mihou
Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation
300 Erie Boulevard
Syracuse, NY 13202-4250

Dear Mr. Mihou:

This is in response to your April 9 letter requesting interpretation of the 29 CFR 1910 General Industry Standard as it applies to the electric utility industry. Please accept our apology for the delay in responding. The two issues you raised and your corresponding questions and our replies follow.

Issue 1: Paragraph 1910.269(g)(2) fall protection requirements for electric power generation, transmission, and distribution has a note referring to 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D "Walking-Working Surfaces Standard" for work performed on portions of buildings, such as loading docks, and to electrical equipment, such as transformers and capacitors. Employees are typically required to work on the top of transformers and capacitors to make inspections, repairs, and maintenance activities. Some compliance guidance is found in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Instruction [STD 01-01-013 (formerly STD 1-1.13)] which provides a definition of a platform and establishes a criteria for "predictable and regular basis," when accessing a platform.

Question 1: Are the top surfaces of transformers (and other similar electrical equipment) considered platforms? Also, how does the criteria of "predictable and regular basis" influence whether fall protection is required for these work areas per OSHA Instruction STD 1- 1.13?

Reply: Any elevated surface of a transformer (and other similar electrical equipment) that is designed or used primarily as a walking or working surface is considered a platform. Also, any elevated surface of a transformer (and other similar electrical equipment) that is not designed or used primarily as a walking or working surface is considered a platform when an employee is required or allowed by the employer to walk or work while performing assigned tasks on a "predictable and regular basis." Predictable and regular basis is delineated under the Paragraph F interpretation (reiterated below) of OSHA Instruction STD 1-1.13.

  1. F. Interpretation: The following interpretations are established for the uniform enforcement and application of paragraph G which follows.
    1. 1. Platforms are interpreted to be any elevated surface designed or used primarily as a walking or working surface, and any other elevated surfaces upon which employees are required or allowed to walk or work while performing assigned tasks on a predictable and regular basis. (See 29 CFR 1910.21(a)(4) for the definition of platform.)
    2. 2. Predictable and regular basis means employee functions such as, but not limited to, inspections, service, repair and maintenance which are performed:
      1. a. At least once every two weeks, or
      2. b. For a total of 4 man-hours or more during any sequential 4-week period; for example, 2 employees once every 4 weeks for 2 hours = 4 man-hours per 4-week period.
  2. G. Guidelines. The following guidelines are established for the uniform enforcement of 29 CFR 1910.23(c)(1), exposures to falls from elevated surfaces.
    1. 1. Employee exposures to falls from platforms (interpreted in F.1.) are regulated by the following OSHA standards:
      1. a. 29 CFR 1910.23(c)(1), or
      2. b. 29 CFR 1910.23(c)(3).
    2. 2. In situations where the safeguarding requirements of G.1. are not applicable because employees are exposed to falls from an elevated surface on other than a predictable and regular basis, personal protective equipment as required by 29 CFR 1910.132(a) or other effective fall protection shall be provided.

An employer who requires or allows an employee to walk on or work from the top surface of a transformer (and other similar electric equipment) must meet the electrical safety-related work practices under §1910.269 and particularly, paragraph (l) when working on or near exposed energized parts. Under paragraph 1910.269(l)(4), an employer must ensure that each employee, to the extent that other safety-related conditions at the worksite permit, works in a position from which a slip or shock will not bring the employee's body into contact with exposed, uninsulated parts energized at a potential different from the employee.

Question 2: Can the construction industry fall protection standards be used as guidelines in General industry applications?

Reply: Yes, but the 29 CFR Part 1926-Safety and Health Regulations For Construction Fall Protection standards may only be used as guidance for workplace applications not covered by the 29 CFR General Industry Standards and only when they provide for the safety of employees in the particular workplace application. An employer may not use construction industry fall protection standards as guidelines in general industry applications when 29 CFR 1910 contains fall protection requirements that an employer is required to meet; an employer must comply with the applicable General Industry fall protection standards. For example, an employer subject to the requirements of §1910.269 must comply with the fall protection requirements in paragraph (g) in this section. Note 1 following paragraph 1910.269(g)(2)(v) references other applicable standards including 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D-Walking -Working Surfaces. Proposed Rulemaking on Subpart D and on Subpart I-Personal Protective Equipment was issued on Tuesday, April 10, 1990 in the Federal Register (69 FR 13360). Proposed Rulemaking on Subpart I includes fall protection equipment standards. A copy of this Federal Register is enclosed for your use.

Please be advised that employer compliance with a proposed rule, in lieu of compliance with an existing rule, is considered a "de minimis violation," that is, a violation of an existing OSHA standard which has no direct or immediate relationship to safety and health. Such violations of the OSHA standards result in no citation, no penalty, and no required abatement.

Question 3: Paragraph 1926.500(a)(1) states that the provisions of 29 CFR 1910 Subpart M Fall Protection do not apply when employees are making an "inspection, investigation, or assessment." Is this also acceptable for work activities classified as general type work? For example, would fall protection be required on transformers (and other similar electrical equipment) for the purpose of inspections, taking measurements, etc.?

Reply: Yes, under either paragraph F.1. or G.2. of OSHA Instruction STD 1-1.13, an employer must provide fall protection for an employee walking on or working from a platform to perform an inspection, investigation, or assessment of workplace conditions regulated under the 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D or §1910.269 General Industry Standards. Fall protection by guardrails or equivalent is not required in general industry workplaces applications where an employee is potentially exposed to a fall from an elevation less than 4 feet (1.22 meters) to a level below.

Question 4: For repairs, maintenance, and clean-up activities, can a fall protection plan using paragraph 1926.502(k) be utilized in our application where it can be demonstrated that it is both infeasible and creates a greater hazard to employees to use conventional fall protection?

Reply: No. The paragraph 1926.502(k) Fall protection plan is an option only available to employees engaged in leading edge (construction) work, precast concrete erection work, or residual construction work.

Question 5: Is fall protection required near an active loading dock area? The current ANSI A12.1, Section 1.2.1 states that loading docks are an exception for requiring fall protection. Height limitations are not specified in the ANSI Standard.

Reply: To be in compliance with paragraph 1910.32 Special surfaces of the Proposed Rulemaking on Walking and Working Surfaces (55 FR 13407; April 10, 1990), employers would not be required to install guardrail systems on the working side of platforms, such as loading docks, where the employer can demonstrate that the presence of guardrails would prevent the performance of work. All other sides of the loading docks must be guarded. Employers must ensure that employees who may be exposed to fall hazards, are trained to recognize and avoid the hazards associated with work on loading docks.

Scenario 2: Qualified employees climb conductor support equipment, such as boxed lattice structures in substations. According to paragraph 1910.269(g), these employees are able to free climb and are not normally required to wear fall protection until in the working position. The electrical equipment is usually located in the middle of the horizontal section of the boxed lattice structure.

Question 6: In many cases the employee has no anchor point above him to secure a fall protection device and will secure at the foot level. Would this be an acceptable means of securing a fall protection device when no other anchor point is available?

Reply: A fall protection system anchor point at the level of an employee's feet may not be acceptable. When an employee is standing on a transformer, the no slack length of a lifeline connected to a harness (at between the shoulder blades approximately) at one end and connected to the anchor point (at the employee's feet) on the other end would be approximately 4 to 4.5 feet (1.22 to 1.37 meters). The free fall distance could be as much as two times the no slack lifeline length or 8 to 9 feet (2.44 to 2.74 meters) which exceeds the maximum free fall distance allowed under 29 CFR 1926.502(d)(16)(iii).

Question 7: Does OSHA have any requirements or restrictions on using the hook on a crane as an anchor point for connection of a fall protection device? The crane would be locked into position and employees instructed not to operate the crane while being used as an anchor point.

Reply: The hook of a crane does not meet the definition of an anchorage, that is, a secure point of attachment for a lifeline, lanyard or deceleration device.

Thank you for your interest in employee safety and health. If we can be of further assistance, please contact the [Office of General Industry Enforcement at (202) 693-1850].



John B. Miles, Jr., Director
[Directorate of Enforcement Programs]

[Corrected 4/4/2005.

Note: On April 10, 1990 OSHA published proposed revisions to Walking and Working Surfaces; Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems); Notices of Proposed Rulemaking; Slips; Falls; Trips in Federal Register 55:13360-13441. It is available electronically only as an abstract. On May 2, 2003 OSHA reopened the rulemaking record on the proposed revisions to Walking and Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems). It was re-published in its entirety in Federal Register 68:23527-23568 and is available electronically.]