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.

August 14, 2000

Mr. Reed Taylor, Safety Director
Taylor Bros. Construction Co. Inc.
4555 Middle Road
P.O. Box 248
Columbus, Indiana 47202-0248

Re: Subpart M, 1926.500, 1926.501(b)(1), 1926.501(b)(4), 1926.32(f)

Dear Mr. Taylor:

This is in response to your December 1, 1999 letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in which you ask for a clarification of OSHA's fall protection requirements. We apologize for the delay in providing this response.

You specifically ask what constitutes a "hole" verses an "unprotected side or edge" when there is a change in elevation. Your blueprint depicts a high school band rehearsal room consisting of a series of platform/steps with varying radii (14 feet, 22 feet, 30 feet). These theater-type platform/steps extend about 50 feet from one side of the room to the other, are about 8 feet wide and have uniform riser heights of 14 inches. Each platform/step extends the full width of the room to the wall on each side.

Subpart M definitions

OSHA's construction fall protection rule, 29 CFR Subpart M §1926.500, defines these terms as follows:

"Hole means a gap or void 2 inches (5.1 cm) or more in its least dimension, in a floor, roof, or other walking/working surface."

"Unprotected sides and edges means any side or edge (except at entrances to points of access) of a walking/working surface, e.g. floor, roof, ramp, or runway where there is no wall or guardrail system, at least 39 inches (1.0 m) high."



Holes verses unprotected sides or edges

In general, a fall hazard at the perimeter of a walking/working surface creates a "side or edge." In general, a fall hazard through a walking/working surface creates a "hole." The only fall hazard associated with the rehearsal room's platform/steps is along the perimeter of each platform/step where there is a change in elevation. Thus, the situation you describe involves an edge, not a hole. Because the distance between levels is only 14 inches, the requirements of §1926.501(b)(1) do not apply.

If you need additional information, please contact us by fax at: U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA, Directorate of Construction, Office of Construction Standards and Guidance, fax # 202-693-1689. You can also contact us by mail at the above office, Room N3468, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, although there will be a delay in our receiving correspondence by mail.


Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction

[Corrected 6/2/2005]