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.

December 5, 2003

Rodney Von Holten
Safety Director
Halverson Construction Co., Inc.
620 North 19th
P.O. Box 6039
Springfield, IL 62708

Re: Life jacket and skiff requirements in 29 CFR 1926.106.

Dear Mr. Von Holten:

This is in regards to a letter sent to you a number of years ago by William Q. Wiehrdt from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Chicago, Illinois office, dated December 19, 1994. In that letter Mr. Wiehrdt stated that you did not need to comply with the requirements in 29 CFR 1926.106 for a life jacket and skiff since you had a 100% fall protection policy in place that included the use of safety nets, body harnesses, lanyards, platforms, and guardrails. Based on the following, OSHA is rescinding its December 19, 1994, letter to you on this issue.

Question: When 100-percent fall protection is used, are life jackets/vests and skiffs still required under §1926.106?

Answer

29 CFR 1926.106(a) "Working over or near water" states in part:

Employees working over or near water, where the danger of drowning exists, shall be provided with U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket or buoyant work vests.

Life jackets/vests
In our
September 28, 1999, letter to Mr. Douglas Walters we addressed the issue of providing life jackets to employees working over or near water. In that letter we stated that:

When continuous fall protection is used (without exception) to prevent employees from falling into the water, the employer has effectively removed the drowning hazard, and life jackets or buoyant work vest are not needed (but see below regarding the use of nets).
* * *
The use of safety nets as fall protection during marine construction activities usually will not eliminate the drowning hazard. In many cases (such as in bridge construction) there is a risk that materials heavy enough to damage the nets may fall. In such cases the personal flotation device and the other applicable requirements of §1926.106 apply.

As we stated in the Walters letter, when 100% fall protection is being used (without exception), the life jackets/vests need not be used.

Skiffs
The requirement in §1926.106(d) for a skiff addresses the hazard of falls that may occur in the event of a failure of the operation of fall protection devices or a lapse in their use. Section 1926.106(d) states:

At least one lifesaving skiff shall be immediately available at locations where employees are working over or adjacent to water.

The intent of the paragraph is to ensure prompt rescue of employees that fall into the water, regardless of other precautions taken to prevent this from occurring. Thus, OSHA requires that employers supply a skiff to affect a prompt water rescue.

As a skiff supplies a backup to potential failures of fall protection devices, the use of fall protection systems is not a substitute for the skiff. Therefore, the failure to provide a skiff in these circumstances would be a violation of §1926.106(d).

This letter supersedes the December 19, 1994, letter from Mr. Wiehrdt.

If you need any additional information, 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.

Sincerely yours,

Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction