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.

May 21, 2003

Ms. Deborah Caldwell
5071 Butler Rd.
Caldwell Electrical Contractors
Gainesville, Georgia 30506

Re: Ladders; fall protection; working on top of equipment.

Dear Ms. Caldwell:

This is in response to your letter of November 22, 2002, in which you ask for guidance regarding OSHA's fall protection requirements for construction work. We apologize for the delay in providing this response.

We have paraphrased your question as follows:

Question: Scenario: to complete a construction project, a worker places a portable ladder on top of a piece of equipment or on the roof of a structure that is inside a large building. The top of the equipment or structure is at least 10' x 10' and at least 10' above the ground. It is stable, level, and sufficiently strong to support the loads imposed by the worker, materials, and tools needed for the job. The worker will then do the construction task while on the ladder. Is fall protection required for this worker?

We will answer your question in two parts: first, with respect to whether fall protection is required for a worker while on the surfaces you describe; second, with respect to whether fall protection is required while the worker is on the ladder.

29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart M (Fall protection) contains fall protection requirements for protecting an employee working on "walking/working surface" (§1926.501(b)(1)). A walking/working surface is defined in §1926.500(b) as follows:

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 but not ladders, vehicles or trailers on which employees must be located in order to perform their duties.

The 10' x 10' top surface of the equipment and the roof the structure that is inside the large building both meet this definition and would be considered a walking/working surface. The requirements of Subpart M would apply to a worker who is on those surfaces.

Section 1926.501(b)(1) states:

Unprotected sides and edges. Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.

Since these surfaces are at or over 6 feet above the next lowest level, fall protection is required while the worker is on those surfaces. Fall protection can be accomplished by using guardrails, a personal fall arrest system, a fall restraint device, or safety net system.

However, with respect to fall protection requirements for a worker on the ladder, §1926.500(a)(2)(vii) states:

Requirements relating to fall protection for employees working on stairways and ladders are provided in Subpart X....

Subpart X (29 CFR 1926.1050 et seq.) does not require fall protection for a worker on a portable ladder. Therefore, no additional fall protection is required while the worker is on the ladder. The fact that the ladder is on either of the surfaces you describe, rather than on the ground, does not alter this conclusion.

Although not an OSHA requirement, we recommend the use of a scaffold, scissor lift, or aerial device instead of a ladder in the scenario you describe, where practicable.

If you have further concerns or questions, please feel free to contact us again 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, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, although there will be a delay in our receiving correspondence by mail.


Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction

[Corrected 7/14/03]