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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.
April 9, 2003
Safety and Health Director
Falcon Steel Erectors
Re: Whether an employer may have a company policy with stricter safety rules than those required by the steel erection standard
Dear Mr. Roth:
This is in response to your letter dated February 5, 2003, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Your questions relate to your company policy of requiring use of personal fall arrest systems at a lower level than the heights specified in OSHA's Steel Erection safety standard.
We have paraphrased your questions as follows:
Question: Does OSHA prohibit an employer from requiring employees to tie-off at a lower level than that set by the steel erection standard? Our company requires our employees who are engaged in steel erection activities to tie-off at 6 feet instead of the 15 or 30 feet required by 29 CFR 1926.760. Is this policy prohibited by the steel erection standard?
No. Section 1926.760(a) states:
General Requirements. (1) Except as provided by paragraph (a)(3) of this section, each employee engaged in a steel erection activity who is on a walking/working surface with an unprotected side or edge more than 15 feet above a lower level shall be protected from fall hazards by guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems, positioning device systems or fall restraint systems.
* * *
(3) Connectors and employees working in controlled decking zones shall be protected from fall hazards as provided in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this section, respectively.
Under paragraph (b), connectors working between 15 and 30 feet must be provided with the equipment necessary to be able to be tied-off (or protected with other forms of conventional fall protection equipment). Under paragraph (c), employers may protect leading edge decking employees between 15 and 30 feet by following the requirements for a Controlled Decking Zone.
These provisions do not state that employers are prohibited from having a company policy of fall protection at heights below those specified in the steel erection standard; they simply specify at what point it is mandatory for employers to provide protection. OSHA addressed the issue of whether an employer is prohibited from having a company policy of fall protection that is stricter than that required by the steel erection standard in Question and Answer # 50 of OSHA compliance directive CPL 2-1.34:
Question 50: Section 1926.760: Can controlling contractors require connectors to tie off between 15 and 30 feet?
Answer: Yes. The standard does not prohibit controlling contractors from imposing stricter requirements than those in the standard.
A similar question to yours was addressed in our September 10, 2002, letter to Mr. Charles Davis:
Question (3): Hubbard Construction Company has a company policy that fall protection must be used at all times for fall heights above 6 feet. If Subpart R applies in any of the above scenarios, is it required that Hubbard Construction Company follow the steel erection fall protection requirements instead of Hubbard's current 6 ft threshold policy?
Answer: No. As indicated in Question and Answer #50 of OSHA's compliance directive CPL 2-1.34 (copy attached), OSHA standards are minimum safety requirements; employers may apply more protective requirements.
OSHA standards set minimum safety and health requirements; they do not prohibit employers from adopting more stringent requirements.
Question: Would OSHA investigate and possibly cite an employer based on a complaint by employees that their employer was requiring adherence to more stringent steel erection fall protection practices than those required by 29 CFR 1926.760?
No. Since there is no prohibition against adopting more stringent fall protection requirements, there would be no basis for OSHA to cite an employer for following such practices.
Question: Hypothetical scenario: a worker's back is injured when a fall protection lanyard snags on a beam. The worker was using the lanyard at 6 feet while engaged in steel erection because the employer required fall protection at 6 feet. What tort liability or workers compensation exposure would the employer face as a result of having a policy that was more stringent than the OSHA standard?
These questions are outside OSHA's purview; we suggest you seek the advice of private counsel familiar with tort and workers' compensation laws.
If you need any further clarification on these subjects, please contact us by fax at: U.S. Department of Labor - OSHA, Directorate of Construction, Office of Construction Standards and Guidance 202-693-1689. You can also contact us by mail at the above office, Room N3468, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20210; although there will be a delay in our receiving correspondence by mail.
Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction