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.

June 20, 2005

Mr. Douglas A. Holman
1816 River Bend Road
Sevierville, TN 37876

Re: Applicability of scaffold fall protection requirements to guardrails near ladder access areas on scaffolds; toeboards across ladder access areas; §1926.451(g) and 1926.451(h)

Dear Mr. Holman:

You have submitted nine letters to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) containing a number of questions on the construction scaffold standard (29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart L).
1 We are responding in a series of separate letters; this is the eighth in that series.

We have paraphrased your questions regarding guardrails and toeboards as follows:

Question 1(a): On construction sites, it is common practice to use ladders to access scaffolds.
2 It is also common to see 3-foot gaps in the guardrail on either side of the ladder at the landing surface or the absence of a midrail or toprail in the same vicinity, in order to facilitate access from the ladder onto the scaffold. Are these practices permissible at heights where fall protection is required under Subpart L—Scaffolds?

Answer: No. The fall protection requirements for Subpart L are set forth in §1926.451(g) and provide in part:

(1) Each employee on a scaffold more than 10 feet (3.1 m) above a lower level shall be protected from falling to that lower level.
* * * * *
(vii) For all scaffolds not otherwise specified in [paragraphs 1926.451(g)(1)(i) through 1926.451(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 [1926.451(g)(4)] of this section.3

OSHA Directive CPL 02-01-023 in K.5. Access—§1926.451(e) states:

* * *
b. The revised standard does not specifically prohibit climbing over or through a guardrail.
(1) There is no consensus with regard to climbing over or through guardrails; therefore OSHA has not adopted a rule prohibiting the practice.
(2) Gates, removable rails or chains across the point of access are preferred.

In a letter to Mr. Thomas L. Dahl, dated February 23, 2000, OSHA responded to a similar question regarding the removal of a portion of a scaffold guardrail to allow employees access underneath the guardrail where the ladder is located:

If you want to remove a portion of the midrail and/or toprail to facilitate access, you must replace the removed components with a gate or similar device. When gates are used, they must remain closed when not in use. In the absence of a gate or similar device, personal fall protection would have to be used to protect those working near the opening.

While the OSHA scaffold standard does not specifically address the access practices you describe, they are prohibited pursuant to the general fall protection provision. Specifically, practices that either create a gap in or eliminate a portion (either midrail or toprail) of the guardrail violate the requirement to provide either personal fall arrest systems or guardrail systems at heights of more than 10 feet.

However, as indicated in the Directive and in the Dahl letter, several viable alternatives to provide access onto scaffolds from ladders do exist. These alternatives either require the use of personal fall arrest systems by exposed employees or the use of gates, removable rails or chains (that must remain closed when not in use) at the point of access.

Question 1(b): I have also seen toeboards installed along the same edge of scaffold platforms where gates or chains are being used to provide points of access for ladders. This practice both creates a tripping hazard and is pointless in a passageway area where materials are not stored. If there are no objects near the gate or chain, are toeboards required?

Answer: Section 1926.451(h) (falling object protection) of Subpart L contains provisions requiring the use of toeboards in certain instances. In part, those provisions provide:

* * *
(2) Where there is a danger of tools, materials, or equipment falling from a scaffold and striking employees below, the following provisions apply
(i) The area below the scaffold to which objects can fall shall be barricaded, and employees shall not be permitted to enter the hazard area; or
(ii) A toeboard shall be erected along the edge of platforms more than 10 feet (3.1 m) above lower levels for a distance sufficient to protect employees below, except on float (ship) scaffolds where an edging of ¾ x 1½ inch (2x4 cm) wood or equivalent may be used in lieu of toeboards;
(iii) Where tools, materials, or equipment are piled to a height higher than the top edge of the toeboard, paneling or screening extending from the toeboard or platform to the top of the guardrail shall be erected for a distance sufficient to protect employees below; [Emphasis added.]

Further, in the Dahl letter, we addressed a related inquiry relative to the need for "mesh or screening (used for falling object protection) at the ladder access point of access if tools and materials are kept away from the access point," as follows:

Under the direction of the "competent person," a portion of the mesh or screening may be removed as long as there is no falling object hazard. If employees are going to work in the vicinity of the access point, and there is a possibility of tools or materials being stacked near the access point, then the mesh or screening must be replaced.

 

 

The same conditions and precautions would similarly obviate the need for falling object protection in your scenario. Specifically, when there are no objects in or near the access/egress area, toeboards in that area would not be required.

We also acknowledge that in some instances the presence of a toeboard across an access area may create a greater hazard — that is, the hazard of a trip and fall off the scaffold. In such instances the toeboard would not be required. However, some scaffolds have gates that include a toeboard, so that toeboard swings out of the way when the gate is opened to permit employee access/egress.

If you need additional information, please contact us 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.

Sincerely,


Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction

 

 


1 When we originally received these questions from you in April 2003, it was unclear to us if you were requesting a response to each or if they were submitted only to call our attention to these issues in the event that OSHA were to do further rulemaking on the standard. We attempted to resolve that with you, but we were unable to obtain a response; consequently, our office closed the file. After your communications with my staff on January 13, 2005, we understand now that you are requesting a response to each question. We apologize for the misunderstanding and resulting delay in providing this response. [ back to text ]

 

 


2 You also mentioned the use of portable and attachable/bolt-on ladders with scaffolds and raised the issue of the applicability of the 3-foot extension requirement specified in §1926.1053(b)(1) of Subpart X — Stairway and Ladders to those ladders. In a May 27, 1999, interpretation letter to Darin J. Paschall, we specifically addressed that issue:

 

 

* * * while [under §1926.451(e)(2) of Subpart L—Scaffolds] portable ladders must meet the Subpart X requirements [including the 3-foot extension requirement], the scaffold standard does not require that attachable ladders for scaffolds meet the Subpart X rules. Therefore, there is no OSHA requirement that attachable scaffold ladders extend above the platform. [ back to text ]

 

 

3 However, see §1926.451(g)(1)(i)-1926.451(g)(1)(iv) for fall protection requirements for specifically referenced scaffolds. [ back to text ]