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.

March 3, 2010

Letter # 20080818-8593

Re: Whether guardrails are required on a two-point adjustable scaffold while workers who are tied off are painting the undercarriage of a water storage tank.

Question #1: Is an employer permitted to remove the front guardrails of a two-point adjustable scaffold where workers who are tied off to a vertical lifeline are painting below the catwalk - between the legs and the lower area of the bowl of an elevated water storage tank - if that area is impossible to access without removing the front guardrails?

Answer #1: Title 29 CFR part 1926.451(g)(l)(ii) requires each employee on a two-point adjustable suspension scaffold to:

[B]e protected by both a personal fall arrest system and guardrail system.

Under 1926.45l(g)(l)(ii), therefore, you are not permitted to remove the guardrails of your scaffold while employees paint the undercarriage of water storage tanks.

However, paragraph 1926.451(b)(3) excepts 1926.451(g)(l)(ii)'s guardrail requirement where the employees are working not more than 14" from the face of the work, which, in this case, is the water storage tank. The exception provides:

[T]he front edge of all platforms [are not] more than 14 inches (36 cm) from the face of the work . . . .

Thus, you are permitted to remove the front guardrail if the employees are working not more than 14 inches from the face of the water storage tank.1

Question #2: Assuming that 1926.451(b)(2)(ii) permits an employer to remove a two-point adjustable scaffold's front guardrail in order to paint the bottom of a water tank, do OSHA standards permit the employer to lower employees to the ground while the guardrail is still removed?

Answer #2: No. As explained above, paragraph 1926.451(g)(l)(ii) requires each employee on a suspension scaffold to be protected from falling by both a personal fall arrest system and a guardrail system. Under the facts you describe, it is feasible to place the removed guardrail on a hinge or a slide in order to ensure the guardrail is intact before lowering your employees.2


Richard E. Fairfax, Acting Director
Directorate of Construction

1 As you indicated in a phone call, it is feasible to maintain this 14" distance if the scaffold that your employees work on is no longer than 20' and, thus, does not extend beyond the face of the water tower. [back to text]

2 Although this question did not appear in your written letter, you asked for clarification of this issue during a telephone call. [back to text]