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.

April 24, 2006

Martin E. Cawley
Gateway Construction Company
3150 West Hirsch Street
Melrose Park, Illinois 60160-1749

Re: Whether non-rebar projections on a construction site must be guarded; whether rebar caps/covers are subject to a minimum size requirement; whether vertical rebar in beam stirrups are subject to §1926.701(b)?

Dear Mr. Cawley:

This is in response to your letter dated May 6, 2005, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in which you ask about requirements regarding impalement hazards from non-rebar projections and vertical rebar in beam stirrups. We apologize for the delay in responding.

We have paraphrased and expanded upon your questions as follows:

Question (1): On construction sites, at certain times various installed materials similar in size and shape to rebar, such as conduit and copper water pipe, project vertically in similar fashion to vertical rebar projections. Are there OSHA requirements that mandate guarding for such non-rebar projections?

Answer: In Subpart Q — Concrete and Masonry Construction, §1926.701(b) provides:

Reinforcing steel. All protruding reinforcing steel, onto and into which employees could fall, shall be guarded to eliminate the hazard of impalement.

Further, with respect to hazards not covered by OSHA standards, the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires:

[E]ach employer:
(1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;
* * *

By its terms, the guarding requirements in §1926.701(b) only apply to reinforcing steel and, therefore, are not applicable to the described non-rebar projections. With respect to the General Duty Clause, we cannot say that all conduit and copper water pipe of shapes and dimensions similar to rebar necessarily pose a recognized impalement hazard. Small-dimension copper water supply pipe (such as is commonly used in residential construction) is much more flexible than ½- or ¾-inch rebar and would likely bend if someone fell on it. Whether conduit would be sufficiently stiff to pose an impalement hazard would depend on various factors, such as the projection's length, whether it was projecting from hardened concrete, and whether it was surrounded by other objects.

Question (2): Is there a minimum size requirement for impalement protection caps used to guard rebar?

Answer: OSHA standards do not specify a minimum diameter for caps used to eliminate impalement hazards. The cap must be large enough to dissipate the forces of impact to prevent impalement from a reasonably foreseeable fall distance.1It should be noted that the use of impalement protection caps is but one method of protection; covers or wooden troughs can be another means of meeting the guarding requirement. Note that in our August 3, 1999, letter to Paul Resler, we stated:

. . . we would consider protective devices (covers or wooden troughs) for rebar that are capable of withstanding at least 250 pounds dropped from a height of 10 feet to be adequate to meet the §1926.701(b) rebar requirements.

Question 3(a): In the pictures below, workers tie horizontal rebar to the vertical rebar that has been bent over into "ears." Does the bent-over rebar present an impalement hazard that must be guarded under §1926.701(b)?

 

 

Figure 1

 


Answer: No; the end of the rebar in these pictures has been bent over to the point where it points downward, thereby eliminating the impalement hazard.2

Question 3(b): For situations where rebar stirrups are not bent over as pictured above and are an impalement hazard, please address the following scenario:

Scenario: The experience of the concrete industry has been that, if protective caps are left on vertical rebar "stirrups" when the concrete is poured, air pockets will form in the concrete, compromising its strength. Consequently, the caps need to be removed prior to the beginning of the pour. Since having the rebar capped from that point forward is not feasible, I plan on protecting the employees once the caps have been removed by limiting the duration and extent of exposure to the hazard as follows:

 

 

  • Only that portion of the rebar in the work area in close proximity and needed to progress with the pouring/finishing of concrete would be unguarded.
  • Access to the areas from which employees could trip or fall on unguarded rebar will be limited to only those employees needed to be there to perform the concrete pouring/finishing activity.
  • Any rebar that had caps removed but still protrudes after the pouring/finishing activity is completed would be immediately re-capped (or otherwise guarded).

In this scenario, would these precautions be sufficient to meet the requirements under §1926.701(b)?

Answer: In instances where it is established that compliance with a standard is infeasible, the employer must apply the next most protective alternative means/methods to protect the employees. In such instances, the employer must prove:

(1) the means of compliance prescribed by the applicable standard would have been infeasible under the circumstances in that
(a) its implementation would have been technologically or economically infeasible, or
(b) necessary work operations would be technologically or economically infeasible after its implementation, and
(2) either
(a) an alternative method of protection was used, or
(b) there was no feasible alternative means of protection.3

In addition, where an employer cannot fully comply with the literal terms of a standard, it must nevertheless comply to the extent that compliance is feasible.4

It is our understanding that it is technologically infeasible to keep the rebar caps on at all times during the activity described in your scenario, since it is structurally undesirable to have caps left on in the concrete. Thus, provided the employer complies with all of the alternative precautions listed in the scenario above, during the described activity, the employer would be considered to be in compliance with §1926.701(b) with respect to the removal of the caps.

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 What the industry commonly refers to as "mushroom caps" typically provide protection only from abrasions and cuts. [ back to text ]

 

 


2 Note that, in a December 9, 2002, letter to Mr. Thomas A. Berry, we stated that vertical rebar which has been bent over 90 degrees does not present an impalement hazard. [ back to text ]


3 Secretary of Labor v. A.J. McNulty & Company, Inc., 2000 WL 1490235 (OSHRC Oct. 5, 2000). [ back to text ]

 


4 Secretary of Labor v. Peavey Co., 16 BNA 2022, 2027 (OSHRC, 1994). [ back to text ]