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.

August 28, 2000



David Herstedt
Region VIII
FROM: Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction
SUBJECT: Concrete Frame Association/David Morrill Inquiry


This memorandum responds to your fax dated May 7, 1999, in which you ask for assistance in responding to the Concrete Frame Association(CFA)'s letter of May 4, 1999. We apologize for the long delay in responding.

CFA asked whether the fall protection requirements of 29 CFR 1926, Subpart L, apply when employees are working from a concrete formwork platform in two scenarios. CFA believes that during the erection of individual formwork components of an integrated floor system, such as beams, drop panels, joists and slab panels, Subpart L should apply (see scenario submitted by CFA below). At that point, workers stand and walk on the individual formwork components. In its view, Subpart M applies only once the components are tied together and become a continuous, integrated floor system (not pictured). CFA states that, in the pictured scenario, general contractors are requiring employees to tie-off with personal fall arrest systems. They assert that their shoring platform is only about 8.5 feet above the ground level and that if a fall were to occur, it would not be arrested prior to the employee contacting the level below.

Drawing of employees working from a concrete formwork platform in two scenarios

Which standard applies: Subpart M or Subpart L?

Classification of the formwork/shoring as a walking/working surface under Subpart M, or as a work platform under Subpart L, is significant because these standards have different thresholds for requiring fall protection.

As you know, Subpart M requires employees to be protected from falls of 6 feet or more (29 CFR 1926.501(b)(1)). It defines a walking/working surface to mean, in part:




." . . any surface, whether horizontal or vertical on which an employee walks or works, including, but not limited to, floors, roofs, ramps, bridges, runways, formwork and concrete reinforcing steel, . . . [emphasis added]"

Section .501(b)(1) requires that employees "on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge" must be protected. Therefore, where that walking/working surface is formwork, the employee must be protected. Section 1926.501(b)(2) requires fall protection for employees constructing "leading edges." That term is defined in §.500(b) as: "the edge of a floor, roof, or formwork for a floor or other walking/working surface (such as the deck) which changes location as additional floor, roof, decking or formwork sections are placed, formed, or constructed [emphasis added]." Therefore, under §.501(b)(2), employees constructing formwork leading edges must be protected in accordance with that section. Finally, §.501(b)(5) requires that employees "on the face of formwork" must be protected under Subpart M as well.

OSHA's scaffold standard, 29 CFR 1926 Subpart L, does not require fall protection for employees until they are exposed to falls in excess of 10 feet, as specified in §1926.451(g). Subpart L defines a scaffold to mean:

"any temporary elevated platform (supported or suspended) and its supporting structure (including points of anchorage), used for supporting employees or materials or both."

Subpart L addresses formwork in §1926.450(b), under the definition of "form scaffold," which is defined as "a supported scaffold consisting of a platform supported by brackets attached to formwork." In the preamble to Subpart L, the Agency stated that this type of scaffold is similar to a carpenter's bracket scaffold and a top plate bracket scaffold (volume 61 of the Federal Register, No. 170, page 46,033, August 30, 1996). Therefore, when an employee is supported by a device that attaches to the formwork, the scaffold standard applies. The scaffold standard would also apply where the formwork is not erected for use as formwork, but instead is being used only as a substitute for scaffold components. Otherwise, Subpart M applies when an employee stands on the face or the top of the formwork.

In the two situations described by CFA -- where employees are walking and working on individual formwork sections, and on sections joined together, Subpart M is the most specifically applicable standard. It specifically covers formwork in its definition of walking/working surfaces, and the employees in the submitted scenario are not working on form scaffolds. Therefore, the requirements of Subpart M apply, irrespective of whether the formwork sections stand alone or are joined into an integrated system.

Fall Arrest Distances

CFA asserts that the personal fall arrest systems being used by workers on the formwork would not arrest falls at heights of about 8 feet. We note that the fall arrest distance is determined by many factors, and that there are often ways to rig systems to limit falls to very short distances. For the narrow walking/working surface pictured above (see right side of illustration), guardrails may be the most useful approach.

Please feel free to contact us if you need further clarification on this issue.

[Corrected 05/28/04]



1 This letter supersedes and revokes the March 17, 1998 letter to Mr. Dale Shoemaker. [ back to text ]