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 https://www.osha.gov.

September 28, 1999

Mr. Douglas F. Walters
Safety Director
Jones Bros., Inc.
P.O. Box 727
Mt. Juliet, TN 37121

RE: 29 CFR 1926 SUBPART M, 1926.105, and 1926.106

Dear Mr. Walters:

This is in response to your March 22, 1999, letter addressed to our Norfolk, Virginia, Area Office, regarding the requirements for fall protection and U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets and buoyant work vests during construction activities over water. You ask if employers must erect guardrail systems at marine work locations (such as piers, trestles, and bridges), and, if so, if employees must still wear approved life jackets or buoyant work vests?

When working above water, employers must provide fall protection if the distance from the walking/working surface to the water's surface is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more.
29 CFR 1926.501(b)(1) states that "each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems." The preamble to the standard states the term "lower level surface" includes liquids (volume 59 of the Federal Register, page 40,681). Therefore, employers must provide fall protection during construction activities when employees are working 6 feet or more above the water.

When fall protection is provided on walking/working surfaces located above water, and no drowning hazard exists, employees do not need to wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets or buoyant work vests.
Section 1926.106(a) states that "employees working over or near water, where the danger of drowning exists, shall be provided with U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket or buoyant work vests." In general, when continuous fall protection is used (without exception) to prevent employees from falling into the water, the employer has effectively removed the drowning hazard, and life jackets or buoyant work vest are not needed (but see below regarding the use of nets).

When using Safety Nets as fall protection, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket or buoyant work vests are usually required.
The use of safety nets as fall protection during marine construction activities usually will not eliminate the drowning hazard. In many cases (such as in bridge construction) there is a risk that materials heavy enough to damage the nets may fall. In such cases the personal flotation device and the other applicable requirements of §1926.106 apply. Also, the §1926.106 requirements apply during the installation of the nets.

The use of fall protection, including fall protection that eliminates drowning hazards, does not relieve employers from having to provide ring buoys and a lifesaving skiff under §1926.106(c) and (d).
The requirements in §1926.106(c) and (d) for ring buoys and a skiff address the hazard of falls that may occur in the event of a failure of the operation of fall protection devices or a lapse in their use. Therefore, ring buoys and a skiff must be provided irrespective of the fall protection provided on the marine construction site.

29 CFR 1926 does not apply to ship repairing, shipbuilding and ship breaking employment and related employment.
Construction activities in ship repairs and ship building are covered by 29 CFR 1915, Occupational Safety and Health Standards for Shipyard Employment.

Should you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to write us at: USDOL-OSHA, Directorate of Construction, Office of Construction Standards and Compliance Assistance, Room N3468, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20210.


Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction