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. Charles E. Hill
Chairman, National Telecommunications Safety Panel
Southwestern Bell Telephone Company
St. Louis, Missouri 63101

Dear Mr. Hill:

This is in response to your letter of July 28, 1998, in which, representing the National Telecommunications Safety Panel and the dozen large companies it represents, you asked for interpretations regarding the telecommunications industry and the applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) standards for fall protection in bucket trucks. You asked four questions regarding OSHA's construction standards for scaffolds and fall protection as well as our general industry standards for powered platforms, manlifts, and vehicle-mounted work platforms. This letter responds only to the issues you raised regarding construction work. While we had hoped to be able to include answers in this letter to your general industry questions, OSHA is continuing to work with a number of industry groups on resolving those issues. Therefore, OSHA will address the general industry questions separately once that work is completed. We apologize for long time that this process has taken.

You ask us to describe the OSHA fall protection requirements for working from scissor lifts, aerial lifts and boom-type elevating work platforms. You also ask us to explain the difference between fall restraint systems, positioning systems, and fall arrest systems.

When Fall Protection On This Equipment Is Required in Construction Work

Aerial lifts/ boom-type platforms
Section 1926.453(b)(2)(v) of the Aerial Lift standard provides that workers in aerial lifts and boom-type platforms must be tied-off.

Scissor lifts
Workers on scissor lifts must either be tied-off or protected by guardrails. The Aerial Lift standard (§1926.453) applies to equipment covered in ANSI A92.2 (1969). Scissor lifts are not addressed in that ANSI standard; consequently, they are not covered by the Aerial Lift standard. Since they are a type of work platform, they are covered under the scaffold standard, §1926.451. Paragraph (g)(1)(vii) of §1926.451 requires that employees be protected by a personal fall arrest system or a guardrail system that meets the requirements of §1926.451(g)(4).

The options for tie-off are delineated below.

Restraint, Positioning and Fall Arrest Systems in Construction Work

Restraint Systems
A restraint system prevents a worker from being exposed to any fall. If the employee is protected by a restraint system, either a body belt or a harness may be used. When a restraint system is used for fall protection from an aerial lift or a boom-type elevating work platform, the employer must ensure that the lanyard and anchor are arranged so that the employee is not potentially exposed to falling any distance.

Positioning Devices: Construction Work
The only time a body belt may be used where there may be a fall is when an employee is using a "positioning device." In §1926.500 of the construction standards for fall protection, a "positioning device system" is defined as a body belt or body harness system rigged to allow an employee to be supported on an elevated vertical surface, such as a wall (or a pole), and work with both hands free while leaning. Therefore, in construction work, a positioning device may be used only to protect a worker on a vertical work surface. These devices may permit a fall of up to 2 feet (0.6 m). They may be used in concrete form work, installation of reinforcing steel, and certain telecommunications work. Since construction workers in bucket trucks, scissor lifts and boom-type elevating work platforms are on a horizontal surface, a positioning device may not be used for those workers.

Fall Arrest Systems Used in Construction Work
A device that permits an arrested fall is considered a fall arrest system. In construction work a body harness must be used in these systems. A fall arrest system can only be used where the aerial lift or scaffold is designed to withstand the vertical and lateral loads caused by an arrested fall. Fall arrest systems used in construction must comply with §1926.502(d). That provision prohibits the use of a body belt in a fall arrest system, and instead requires the use of a body harness.

Construction Work: When Does The Rescue Provision, §1926.502(d)(20), Apply?

You ask if employers must provide for self-rescue or prompt rescue when their employees are using a work positioning or restraint system. In light of the above definitions, we interpret your question as follows: first, must self-rescue or prompt rescue be provided where a harness and lanyard are set up so that the worker is not exposed to any fall (a restraint system)? The answer is no, since the worker would not be exposed to any fall.

Second, must the rescue provision be met where the worker is protected by a positioning system? The rescue provision applies where a fall arrest system is used while doing construction work. In construction work, a worker may use a positioning device only while working on a vertical work surface. Workers therefore may not use a positioning device while in a bucket truck or on a scissor lift. The only option other than a restraint system in that circumstance is a fall arrest system. If the lift can support the forces of an arrested fall and if a fall arrest system is used because the worker is exposed to a fall, the rescue provision does apply.

What Does The Rescue Provision Require

Prompt rescue, as required under §1926.502(d)(20), is not defined in the standard. The particular hazard that §1926.502(d)(20) addresses is being suspended by the fall arrest system after a fall. While an employee may be safely suspended in a body harness for a longer period than from a body belt, the word "prompt" requires that rescue be performed quickly -- in time to prevent serious injury to the worker.

You note that electrical utility and telecommunications workers sometimes work alone and that the employees' "status is maintained through normal work rules and operating procedures." We recognize that there are a wide range of variables and circumstances between worksites. The standard requires that, to the extent feasible, a reliable system be in place to ensure that rescue will be prompt. Precisely what is required to comply with this provision in a remote location will depend on what is feasible under the particular circumstances. The range of feasible options available in remote locations may be more limited than in more populated areas.

Applicability of Construction Standards to Electrical Utility and Telecommunications Work

You ask several questions relating to the applicability of OSHA construction standards to electrical utility and telecommunications work. Your questions ask us to distinguish between construction work, to which the OSHA construction standards apply, and maintenance work, where they do not apply. The following principles and examples apply in distinguishing between construction and maintenance:

(A) It is the activity to be performed, not the company's standard industrial classification (SIC) code, that determines whether the construction standard applies;

(B) "Maintenance" means keeping equipment or a structure in proper condition through routine, scheduled or anticipated measures without having to significantly alter the structure or equipment in the process. For equipment, this generally means keeping the equipment working properly by taking steps to prevent its failure or degradation.

(C) Whether repairs are maintenance or construction depends on the extent of the repair and whether the equipment is upgraded in the process.

Example No. 1: Maintenance
Five percent of a company's utility lines are downed in a storm and are repaired or replaced. In so doing, the service is restored, with the same capacity and capabilities it had before the damage. This is maintenance work because only a small part of the total system is repaired or replaced and the work returns the system to its original condition.

Example No. 2: Construction
Three quarters of a company's lines are damaged and replaced. This is construction because the work is done to a very large portion of the total system.

Example No. 3: Construction
A few lines are changed to upgrade service. This is construction work because this part of the system, though only a very small portion, is improved relative to its condition before the work was done.

Example No. 4: Maintenance
A small water shut-off valve in a large, complex chemical processing system is removed and replaced. Its replacement is part of the routine maintenance of the system and removing and replacing the valve is done without making major alterations to the rest of the system. The removal and replacement of the valve would be considered maintenance.

Example No. 5: Construction
A 36-inch valve that is one of three major components in a processing system is removed and replaced. To do the job, about half of all the parts in the system have to be cut, unbolted, moved, or otherwise altered or replaced. Removing and replacing this valve would be considered construction because the valve constitutes a major portion of the equipment it is in and a significant portion of the system's parts must be moved or altered in the process of doing the job.

Unifying Parts 1910 and 1926

In your letter you suggest that the Agency unify the provisions of its parts 1910 and 1926 standards for fall protection and vehicle-mounted aerial lifts. We appreciate the need to simplify standards as much as possible and will keep your suggestion in mind in our upcoming rulemakings.

If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Directorate of Construction, Office of Construction Standards and Compliance Assistance, Room N3468, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington D.C. 20210.


Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction

[Corrected 5/28/2004]