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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.
March 10, 2006
Mr. Jack Calhoun
Dear Mr. Calhoun:
Re: Impalement from reinforcing steel protruding horizontally; §1926.701(b).
This is in response to your e-mail dated April 18, 2005 to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). You asked about the requirements for protecting employees from impalement hazards from reinforcing steel that protrudes horizontally. We sent you some information in response on April 25, 2005; this letter supplements that response.
We have paraphrased your question as follows:
Question: A horizontal concrete beam that is positioned 12 inches above grade has reinforcement bars ("rebar") sticking out horizontally; do the OSHA standards require that the rebar protruding from the beam have a protective cap or cover on it?
Answer: OSHA's construction standard for concrete and masonry work (Part 1926, Subpart Q) addresses protecting employees from reinforcing steel in 29 CFR 1926.701(b), which states that:
All protruding reinforcing steel, onto and into which employees could fall, shall be guarded to eliminate the hazard of impalement.
Prior to the revision of Subpart Q in June 1988, the provision addressing the hazard of impalement from reinforcing steel (rebar)1 required only that the employer guard vertically protruding reinforcing steel when employees were working above it. The June 1988 revision broadened conditions for which the standard would apply by requiring guarding of all protruding reinforcing steel onto and into which employees could fall. In the preamble to the June 1988 revision, the discussion for §1926.701(b) explained the Agency's intent in making this change:
...OSHA's intent is to eliminate the hazard of impalement completely. OSHA did not intend that the use of the word "above" [in the old provision] would be construed to mean that the entire body of an employee would have to be "above" the protruding steel. OSHA realizes that employees could be, in fact, often are, in a position where only part of their body is above the protruding steel, such as walking alongside of protruding rebar where[,] as TSA [Technical Safety Associates, Ex. 14-34] points out, the employee could trip and then fall into the steel. Likewise, there are situations where the steel is protruding from a horizontal direction and employees could fall or trip into the steel and become impaled... (53 FR 22618)
Therefore, in situations where horizontal rebar is situated in such a way that a worker could trip and fall into it and become impaled, protection would have to be provided.
Horizontal rebar that is close to ground level would not normally pose such a hazard. For example, as discussed in a March 24, 1995, letter to Mark Totten, we indicated that reinforcing steel bent to a horizontal position, with the bended portion 6 inches above grade, would not constitute an impalement hazard and would meet the requirement of 29 CFR 1926.701(b). Similarly, in the scenario you posed, with the bent (horizontal) part of the rebar 12 inches above grade, in the absence of special circumstances, it would not normally be reasonable to expect that a worker could fall into the horizontal part and become impaled.
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.
Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction
1 Title 29 CFR 1926.700(b)(2) was revised and redesignated as §1926.701(b) in the June 1988 rulemaking. [ back to text ]