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 25, 2001

Acting Regional Administrator, Philadelphia Regional Office
Director of Construction
March 8 & 9, 2001 e-mails - aerial lifts near overheard lines

This is in response to your e-mail inquiry dated March 8, 2001, asking what standard applies where an aerial lift is being operated within 10 feet of overhead electric lines. Your March 9, 2001, e-mail refined the inquiry by eliminating electrical work on the proximate overhead lines from the scenario.

Question: What standards apply to a situation where employees, not engaged in electrical work, operate an aerial lift within 10 feet of overhead electric lines?


In 1993, several Part 1910 standards were made applicable to construction. In this manner §1926.416(g) came into existence and inherited safe approach distance language that described requirements for the scenario described in your inquiry. (See 58 FR 35181, June 30, 1993, for the complete discussion.)

However, §1926.416(g) was determined to have been incorporated from Part 1910 in error and was removed in August 1996. (See 61 FR 41738, August 12, 1996, for full discussion.) The language that remains in Subpart K, specifically §§1926.400, 1926.416 and 1926.449, provide the basis for the rest of this analysis.


Section 1926.400 (Introduction), states that Subpart K "addresses electrical safety requirements that are necessary for the practical safeguarding of employees involved in construction work and [Subpart K] is divided into four major divisions and applicable definitions as follows:"

(a) Installation safety requirements ... Sections 1926.402 through 1926.408
(b) Safety-related work practices ... Sections 1926.416 and 1926.417
(c) Safety-related maintenance and environmental considerations ... Sections 1926.431 and 1926.432
(d) Safety requirements for special equipment ... Section 1926.441
(e) Definitions ... Section 1926.449

Section 1926.416 General Requirements for work practices applies to your scenario. Section 1926.400(b) provides that:

In addition to covering the hazards arising from the use of electricity at jobsites, [§§1926.416 and 1926.417] also cover the hazards arising from the accidental contact, direct or indirect, by employees with all energized lines, above or below ground, passing through or near the jobsite.

The scenario you present includes potential "direct or indirect" employee contact with "energized lines above ... ground, passing through or near the jobsite." Thus, §1926.416 prescribes the safe work practices for your scenario.

Section 1926.416(a)(1) Protection of employees provides that:

No employer shall permit an employee to work in such proximity to any part of an electric power circuit that the employee could contact the electric power circuit in the course of work, unless the employee is protected against electric shock by deenergizing the circuit and grounding it or by guarding it effectively by insulation or other means.

Compliance with §1926.416(a)(1) entails a three-step analysis:

Step 1: Did the employer permit an employee to work in such proximity that he or she could contact the electric power circuit in the course of work? "Contact" includes direct or indirect contact.

For example, a 15-foot separation when painting with a roller on a 20-foot aluminum extension pole poses the risk of indirect contact, and the employee is, therefore, too close to a live, ungrounded electric power circuit.

Step 2: Did the employer de-energize the proximate electric power circuit and ground it? If the employer did not de-energize and ground the circuit, then permitting employees to work close enough to "contact the electric power circuit in the course of work" would violate §1926.416(a)(1), unless the circuit was effectively guarded.

Step 3: If the proximate electric power circuit was not de-energized and grounded, did the employer guard the circuit "effectively by insulation or other means" of guarding?

Guarding by insulation means placing insulating blankets, sleeves or similar devices on the conductors to protect employees from shock hazards. Multiple factors including voltage, use, location, and the conductors' own coverings, if any, will determine the appropriate insulating material to use.

Guarding by "other means" includes a long list of methods and devices. Section 1926.449, which supplies definitions for all of Subpart K, offers a catalogue of guarding by means other than insulation. Guarding is effective if it successfully removes "the likelihood of approach to a point of danger or contact by persons or objects."

In other words, if the proximate electric power circuit has not been de-energized and grounded, and if this circuit has not been guarded effectively by insulation, the employer must utilize other means of guarding to eliminate the potential for employee contact with the circuit. Note that if the proximate circuit has not been effectively guarded, "covered, shielded, fenced, enclosed, or otherwise protected by means of suitable covers, casings, barriers, rails, screens, mats, or platforms to remove the likelihood of approach to a point of danger or contact . . .," the situation violates §1926.416(a)(1).

The foregoing not only addresses your scenario but clarifies potential confusion concerning §1926.416(a)(1) and the February 23, 1999, interpretation letter addressed to T. Michael Toole, Ph.D., P.E. addressing his requested clarification of "insulation" in §1926.416(a)(1). DOC [(Directorate of Construction)] included a brief discussion of "guarding against electrical shock" while answering Mr. Toole's questions. This correspondence and the included three-step analysis clarify the §1926.416(a)(1) guarding issue.