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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 https://www.osha.gov.
April 30, 2010
Letter # 20090824-9245
Re: Interpretation of "unattended" in 29 CFR 1926.35l(d)(l) with regard to electrode holders.
Question: If a welder momentarily steps six feet away from his electrode, electrode holder and cord, would the electrode and holder be considered "unattended, " such that the electrode must be removed?
Section 1926.351(d)(l) states:
When electrode holders are to be left unattended, the electrodes shall be removed and the holders shall be so placed or protected that they cannot make electrical contact with employees or conducting objects.
While, as you point out, there is no definition for "unattended" in 29 CFR 1926 Subpart J (Welding and Cutting), OSHA interprets that term for purposes of 1926.351(d)(l) to mean that the electrode holder is out of the welder's immediate control.
The concern with unattended welding equipment is that a worker not knowledgeable and not authorized to use that equipment could contact, or bring a conductive object in contact with, the electrode holder. Such contact can result in flash burns, unintended arcing, and shock. Therefore, OSHA will consider an electrode holder to be in the welder's immediate control as long as he or she is in a position to prevent an unauthorized employee from contacting the equipment. OSHA will consider a number of factors in making this determination, including the welder's distance from the holder, the number of employees in the work area, whether the welder can see the equipment from his or her location, and relevant environmental conditions, e.g., noise levels that might make it difficult for the welder to verbally warn an approaching employee to stay away from the electrode holder. In a busy work area with many employees, the electrode holder will usually be deemed out of the welder's immediate control as soon as the welder steps away from the equipment. On the other hand, if a welder is working alone at a bench in a tightly controlled work area, he or she could retain immediate control of the holder even if he or she steps several feet away from the equipment, as long as the equipment remains in his or her view and environmental conditions permit him or her to warn an approaching employee to avoid the holder.1
In your letter, you ask about a specific scenario in which an experienced welder steps six feet away from his electrode holder in order to pick up a slag hammer or level from his welder's bucket. Whether the holder is "unattended" in this scenario depends on whether the welder retains immediate control of the equipment, taking into account the factors described above. If the welder is in a controlled environment, there are no other employees in the work area, and the equipment remains in his or her view at all times, he or she may step six feet away from the holder without the holder being considered unattended. However, if the welder is in an active, noisy work area surrounded by other workers and he steps six feet away from the holder, OSHA would consider the holder to be unattended and the standard would require removal of the electrode.
If you need further clarification on this subject, please contact us by fax at: 202-693-1689. U.S. Department of Labor, Directorate of Construction, Office of Construction Standards and Guidance. 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.
Bill Parsons, Acting Director
Directorate of Construction
1 In other contexts, OSHA has taken the position that an operator is deemed to be attending to equipment if he or she is within twenty five (25) feet of the equipment and the equipment remains in his or her view. For example, 29 C.F.R. 1910.178(m)(5), a General Industry provision for industrial trucks, provides: "(ii) A powered industrial truck is unattended when the operator is 25 ft or more away the vehicle which remains in his view, or whenever the operator leaves the vehicle and it is not in his view." And in a May 11, 2005 letter to Peter Kuchinsky, OSHA took the position that for purposes of 29 CFR 1926.302(e)(6) (Powder-Actuated Tools), which prohibits loaded tools from being left unattended, a "tool is considered to be attended when the . . . worker, while in view of the tool, is less than 25 feet away." (This letter is available on OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONSp_id=25O67 ). OSHA believes that there are fundamental differences between the hazards at issue in those situations and the hazards addressed by 1926.35l(d) that justify adopting a different interpretation of "unattended" for purposes of welding equipment. The electrical hazards addressed by 1926.351(d)(l) are more immediate than the hazards associated with the unauthorized operation of powered industrial trucks or powder-actuated tools. Whereas an unauthorized employee could be injured immediately upon contact with an electrode holder, powered industrial trucks and powder-actuated tools don't pose such immediate contact hazards; in both of those scenarios, the unauthorized employee would need to do something with or to the equipment before an injury would occur. Welders simply do not have as much time to react to prevent injury to an approaching employee. For this reason, OSHA is adopting a stricter interpretation of "unattended" in the context of 1926.35l(d). [back to text]