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.

December 15, 2003

Mr. Anthony O'Dea
ADP Marshall Construction
75 Newman Avenue
Rumford, RI 02916

Re: Fall protection requirements for construction workers doing work while on a roof.

Dear Mr. O'Dea:

This is in response to your fax submitted on September 2, 2003, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and as a follow-up to a telephone conversation on September 22, 2003. You inquired as to the fall protection requirements under 29 CFRPart 1926 Subpart M. We apologize for the delay in responding.

We have paraphrased your questions as follows:

Question (1)(a): Is there a safe distance from the edge of a roof for construction workers doing work while on a roof (but not engaged in roofing, residential, pre-cast erection, or leading edge work)?



In 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart M (fall protection), §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 (1.8 m) 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.

However, in a few, specifically identified circumstances (low-slope roof work, some leading edge work, precast concrete erection and residential construction), due to feasibility limitations, the standard permits the use of a warning line, in combination with other measures as an alternative to conventional fall protection (guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems or safety net systems) for the purpose of keeping employees away from an edge.

For example, §1926.501(b)(10) allows roofers working on low-sloped roofs to have several additional fall protection options. Under that section, an employer may use a combination of warning lines 6 feet (and in some cases 10 feet) back from the edge in combination with safety monitors as a substitute for personal fall protection equipment, guardrail, or safety net systems. OSHA recognized these systems could pose feasibility problems during roofing work; therefore, the rule allows other choices of fall protection methods.

Furthermore, under §1926.501(b)(2), (b)(12), and (b)(13), employers engaged in other specified work, such as leading edge work, precast concrete erection, and residential construction may develop and implement a site-specific fall protection plan that uses alternative fall protection methods if they can demonstrate infeasibility of conventional fall protection. In some cases warning lines may also be used under these provisions.

Use of warning lines for other trades

Other than the above four instances, Subpart M does not permit warning lines as an alternative to conventional fall protection. Distance alone is ineffective to protect workers from unprotected sides or edges. However, as explained letters to Mr. Barry Cole in May 2000 and to Mr. Mark Troxell in August 2000, we have determined that in the areas further back from the distances specified for the warning lines permitted under the standard, there is a point that is sufficiently far from the edge to warrant the application of a de minimis policy regarding non-conforming guardrails.

At 15 feet from the edge, a warning line, combined with effective work rules, can be expected to prevent workers from going past the line and approaching the edge. Also, at that distance, the failure of a barrier to restrain a worker from unintentionally crossing it would not place the worker in immediate risk of falling off the edge. Therefore, we will apply a de minimis policy for non-conforming guardrails 15 or more feet from the edge under certain circumstances. Specifically, we will consider the use of certain physical barriers that fail to meet the criteria for a guardrail a de minimis violation of the guardrail criteria in §1926.502(b) where all of the following are met:

  1. A warning line is used 15 feet or more from the edge;
  2. The warning line meets or exceeds the requirements in §1926.502(f)(2);
  3. No work or work-related activity is to take place in the area between the warning line and the edge;
  4. The employer effectively implements a work rule prohibiting the employees from going past the warning line.

In sum, the use of warning lines closer than 15 feet from the edge is not permitted as a substitute for conventional fall protection for these other trades. Furthermore, when these other trades use a warning line system in accordance with the policy described above, the workers must use conventional fall protection when they are outside the protection of the warning line system.

Question 1(b): Would it be permissible to use warning lines 6 feet back from the edge and designate the area inside the lines as a Controlled Access Zone (CAZ) instead of providing conventional fall protection for these workers while within the CAZ?

No. Under Subpart M, only certain types of work may be performed in a CAZ. These work categories are: (1) overhand brick laying and related work; (2) as part of a fall protection plan for leading edge work; (3) precast concrete work; or (4) residential construction work. If the work does not fall into one of thecategories specified in the standard, a CAZ may not be used as a substitute for conventional fall protection. Your inquiries suggest that the construction work being performed fails to meet these exceptions. Therefore, the construction workers installing fixtures or equipment may not utilize a CAZ as a substitute for conventional fall protection. However, as explained in the previous question, warning lines may be used 15 feet back from the edge instead of guardrails.

If you need any further clarification on this subject, please contact us by fax at: U.S. Department of Labor, Directorate of Construction Office of Construction Standards and Guidance. 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