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.

January 16, 2003

Walter H. West
Safety & Health Systems, Inc.
462 Kingsley Avenue, Suite 201
Orange Park, FL 32073

Re: Whether the swing radius of an excavator has to be barricaded.

Dear Mr. West:

This is in response to your letter, dated May 3, 2002, to James Borders, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Area Director in Jacksonville, Florida. Your letter was forwarded to the Directorate of Construction through our Regional Office in Atlanta. We apologize for the delay responding to your inquiry.

We have paraphrased your question as follows:

Question: On September 9, 1977, OSHA issued a letter indicating that the barricading of the swing radius of backhoes "may" be required under 29 CFR 1926.550(a)(9) or Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Backhoes with rotating superstructures are used primarily for digging retention areas, loading dump trucks and for trench excavations. It is only during trench excavating that employees could be in close proximity to the machine. Employees working in utility trenches are always in front of the machine, not behind it since it is moving away from the employees to extend the trench.

Does the swing radius of a backhoe with a rotating superstructure have to be barricaded?

First, we note that our understanding of the construction industry's use of the terms "backhoe" and "excavator" is as follows: a backhoe does not have a rotating superstructure; an excavator does.

OSHA's current policy on barricading the swing radius on an excavator is that expressed in our letter of February 23, 1994, to Mr. George Kennedy at the National Utility Contractors Association (see enclosed copy) which states:

[T]he Agency considers being caught between the rotating superstructure of an excavator and the carrier or other object a serious hazard and one that is recognized by the excavation industry. Therefore, not only is the employer required to instruct each employee, who could be exposed, on the danger of working near the rotating superstructure (see §1926.21(b)(2)), but must also take the necessary precautions (e.g., erect barricades, warning lines, or other excavation industry recognized procedures) to prevent entry into a swinging superstructure's radius.

The "necessary precautions" are required under Section 5(a)(1) of the Act. Therefore, some form of effective protection against the swing radius hazard is required, although that does not necessarily have to be in the form of a barricade.

Finally, we believe that there is a much wider variety of circumstances in which excavators are used than you suggest. Consequently, we disagree with your assessment that employees rarely work near an excavator.

This letter supersedes the September 9, 1977, letter that was signed by John Barto; the Barto letter will be removed from our website.

If you need additional information, please do not hesitate to 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, NW., Washington, D.C. 20210, although there will be a delay in our receiving correspondence by mail.


Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction