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.

August 23, 2004

Lynn Raper
Safety Director
Cape Romain Contractors, Inc.
660 Cape Romain Road
Wando, South Carolina 29492

Re: §1926.106(a) and 1926.106(d)

Dear Ms. Raper:

This is in response to your fax of July 1, 2004. We have paraphrased your questions below:

Question (1): Under §1926.106(a) would a life jacket or buoyant work vest be required where employees are working over water that is less than 2 feet deep where they could easily stand up?

29 CFR 1926.106(a) states:

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

Section 1926.106(a) does not specify a minimum depth of water where a danger of drowning would exist. However, several factors are relevant to determining whether a danger of drowning exists. These include the type (i.e., a pool, a river, a canal), depth, presence or absence of a current, height above the water surface, and the use of fall protection.

Depending on the factors present, there are some circumstances where a drowning hazard could exist where workers are near or over water that is less than 2 feet in depth. For example, where workers are not using fall protection and are 10 feet above a river, a worker may fall and be knocked unconscious. Without the use of a life jacket or buoyant work vest, a worker in such a scenario could drown.

Note, though, that in a September 28, 1999, letter to Mr. Douglas Walters we addressed the issue of providing life jackets to employees working over or near water who use fall protection. 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 vests are not needed.

Therefore, in your scenario, if the workers were to use 100% fall protection (without exception) while over or near water, life jackets/vests would not be required under §1926.106(a) because you would have removed the drowning hazard.

Question (2): Would a lifesaving skiff be required where employees are working over water that is less than 2 feet deep?

Title 29 CFR 1926.106(d) states:

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

This provision does not state a minimum depth of water required before a lifesaving skiff is necessary. Unlike §1926.106(a), this provision does not include the phrase "where the danger of drowning exists."

As discussed in the previous question, in certain circumstances, such as where the worker is at a height where a fall could cause significant injury or unconsciousness, drowning in shallow water can result. The purpose of §1926.106(d) is to facilitate the rapid rescue of workers who fall into the water. Even in shallow water, a skiff will greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to reach an employee in the water (unless the employee is working in an area very near the water's edge).

Of course, if the water were so shallow that rescuers could simply run in (and a skiff would foul on the bottom anyway), a skiff would not be required.

If you need any additional information, please contact us by facsimile 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, NW, Washington, D.C. 20210, although there will be a delay in our receiving correspondence by mail.



Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction

1 See enclosed interpretation letter to Mr. Cooper on December 6, 1991, for criteria to use in helping determine when a lifesaving skiff is considered to be "immediately available." Also, in previous interpretation letters (see September 28, 1999, letter to Mr. Walters and the December 5, 2003, letter to Mr. Von Holten, enclosed), OSHA has stated that skiffs are required regardless of the use of fall protection. The intent of §1926.106(d) is to ensure prompt rescue of employees that fall into the water, regardless of the measures taken to prevent the fall. [ back to text ]