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.

February 9, 2004

Mr. Jack Swarthout
Scott Bridge Company Inc.
PO Box 2000
Opelika, Alabama 36803

Re: Work docks and work bridges; scaffolds; fall protection; working over water

Dear Mr. Swarthout:

This is in response to your letter of October 24, 2002, to the Directorate of Construction. We apologize for the long delay in providing this response.

We have paraphrased your questions as follows:

Question: In the course of building bridges (over water), we sometimes build "work docks" and "work bridges." These structures facilitate the loading and unloading of construction materials and equipment onto barges, or serve as work platforms for the bridge construction. Sometimes we walk cranes onto them so the cranes can then be in position for the bridge construction work. Part of the structure is over water, and part is over land.

Which standards apply for purposes of fall protection - 29 CFR Part 1915, 1917, or 1926? Does it matter if the worker is on the part that is over land versus over water?

We understand from your letter that your company generally builds bridges over water (rivers, lakes, etc.). In doing so, it is sometimes required to build work docks or work bridges, which may be used to help construct the bridge or to load and/or unload construction materials and equipment onto barges.

29 CFR Part 1915

Section 1915.2 states:

"...the provisions of this part shall apply to all ship repairing, shipbuilding and ship breaking employments and related employments." [Emphasis added.]

Given the situation you described your activity does not involve, ship repairing, shipbuilding or ship-breaking. Therefore, Part 1915 does not apply to this situation.

29 CFR Part 1917

The scope of Part 1917 is primarily for activities within a marine terminal, specifically those activities which involve moving cargo from a vessel to shore or shore to vessel. Under the scenario you describe, your activity would not fall within the scope of Part 1917.

29 CFR Part 1926

OSHA's construction standards apply "to every employment and place of employment of every employee engaged in construction work." [29 CFR 1910.12(a)] Under §1926.32(g), construction work is defined as:

"work for construction, alteration, and/or repair, including painting and decorating."

Under 29 CFR 3.2(a) (2003), construction work or activity includes, among other things:

"buildings, structures, and improvements of all types, such as bridges, dams, plants, highways, parkways, streets, subways, tunnels, sewers, mains, power lines, pumping stations, heavy generators, railways...excavating..." [Emphasis added.]

The activity of building bridges, therefore, is construction. The use of work docks or work bridges built to help construct the bridge or to load/unload construction materials and equipment onto barges must therefore meet the applicable Part 1926 standards.

Fall Protection under Part 1926 Subpart L
"The structures that you refer to as work docks or work bridges fall within the scope of Part 1926 Subpart L (Scaffolds). This classification is significant in that it establishes the threshold height for requiring fall protection.

Section 1926.450(b) defines a "scaffold" as:

Any temporary elevated platform (supported or suspended) and its supporting structure (including points of anchorage), used for supporting employees or materials or both. [Emphasis added.]

"Platform" is defined as:

…a work surface elevated above lower levels. Platforms can be constructed using individual wood planks, fabricated planks, fabricated decks, and fabricated platforms.

"Lower levels" mean:

areas below the level where the employer is located and to which an employee can fall. Such areas include, but are not limited to, ground levels, floors, roofs, ramps, runways, excavations, pits, tanks, materials, water, and equipment. [Emphasis added.]

Here, the structures fall within the definition of a scaffold as set forth in Subpart L. As described, the work docks or work bridges are supported platforms that provide a temporary elevated work surface over water to support employees and construction materials during the course of constructing bridges. They are temporary because they will be removed from the site at the job's completion.

Note that in the preamble to the scaffold standard (volume 61 of the Federal Register at page 46065), the significance of whether the structure is temporary is discussed:

OSHA has carefully analyzed all of the comments and data available in the record and determined that it is appropriate to maintain the 10-foot fall protection in the final scaffold standard, as proposed. * * * This level differs from the 6-foot threshold for fall protection in subpart M (Fall Protection) for other walking/working surfaces in construction because scaffolds, unlike these other surfaces, are temporary structures erected to provide a work platform for employees who are constructing or demolishing other structures. The same features that make scaffolds appropriate for short-term use in construction * * * make them less amendable to the use of fall protection at the time the first level is being erected. [Emphasis added.]

Note also that the Agency stated in this section of the preamble that scaffolds are used to provide a work surface for workers who are "constructing...other structures." In the instant case, the work docks and work bridges only provide a temporary surface from which workers can work on other structures.

The threshold height at which fall protection is required is set by §1926.451(g)(1), which states:

Each employee on a scaffold more than 10 feet (3.1m) above a lower level shall be protected from falling to that lower level...

The particular type of fall protection required depends on whether the scaffold is one of the specific types described in §1926.451(g)(1)(i) through (g)(1)(vi). If the work docks and work bridges fall within one of those categories, you must provide the fall protection described in the applicable section.1 If the work docks and work bridges do not fall in any of those categories, then §1926.451(g)(1)(vii) applies, which states:

For all scaffolds not otherwise specified in paragraphs (g)(1)(i) through (g)(1)(vi) of this section, each employee shall be protected by the use of personal fall arrest systems or guardrail systems meeting the requirements of paragraph (g)(4) of this section.

Additional requirements under §1926.106

Note that, when working over water, §1926.106 requires an employer to provide Coast Guard-approved life jackets or buoyant vests, ring buoys with at least 90 feet of line, which are readily available for emergency rescue. Also, a life saving skiff must be immediately available. These requirements are in addition to the fall protection requirements of scaffolds and walking/working surfaces.

Additional Information

The scaffold and fall protection standards are available online at our
www.osha.gov website under the laws and regulations hyperlink. We also invite you to utilize our compliance assistance program in our Regional Office at: (404) 562-2300, or contact our area offices in Birmingham at (205) 731-1534 or Mobile at: (334) 441-6131.

Please feel free to contact us by fax ((202) 693-1689) at: U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA, 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



1 We do not have sufficient information on the work docks and work bridges in question to comment on whether they would fall within any of the categories described in §1926.451(g)(1)(i) through (g)(1)(vi). [back to text]