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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.
July 1, 2010
Re: Various interpretation questions regarding 1926.651(c).
Question #1: Can a person who qualifies as a "competent" person under one section of subpart P also qualify as a competent designer of structural ramps under §1926.651(c)(1)(i)?
Answer #1: A person who qualifies as a "competent" person under one section of subpart P, can also qualify as a competent designer of structural ramps under § 1926.651(c)(1)(i). Title 29 CFR 1926.650(b) defines quot;competent person" as:
One who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings, or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.
Furthermore, § 1926.651(c)(1)(i) provides:
Structural ramps that are used solely by employees as a means of access or egress from excavations shall be designed by a competent person. Structural ramps used for access or egress of equipment shall be designed by a competent person qualified in structural design, and shall be constructed in accordance with the design.
A person who qualifies as a competent person with respect to one provision of subpart P (i.e. inspections) may also qualify as a competent person with respect to a different provision in subpart P (i.e. design of structural ramps). However, that person must be able to identify existing and predictable hazards and have the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them, with respect to the specific activity being performed. For example, under §1926.651(c)(1)(i), a person is competent only if he/she is able to "identify existing and predictable hazards" with the design of structural ramps and "has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them."
Question #2: Does §1926.651(c)(1)(i), permit an employer to use excavation equipment to cut a structural ramp from the side of the excavation?
Answer #2: Yes, provided the structural ramp meets the requirements of the competent person's design, under § 1926.651(c)(1)(i), including the soil.
Question #3: In a trench, does §1926.651(c)(2) permit an employer to cut steps into the excavation of sloped type C soil?1
Answer #3: In general, subpart P does not permit this practice. Section 1926.651(c)(2) provides:
A stairway, ladder, ramp or other safe means of egress shall be located in trench excavations that are 4 feet (1.22 m) or more in depth so as to require no more than 25 feet (7.62 m) of lateral travel for employees.
Section 1926.652(b) provides the permissible means of sloping or benching an excavation. These requirements also apply here, and paragraph (b)(2) provides:
Maximum allowable slopes, and allowable configurations for sloping and benching systems, shall be determined in accordance with the conditions and requirements set forth in appendices A and B to this subpart.
Appendix B does not permit an employer to bench a type C soil excavation. Therefore, it is not safe to cut steps into a slope of type C soil because the soil's lack of cohesion is likely to cause the steps to crumble when an employee steps on them. The likelihood that the soil will crumble makes cutting steps into the excavation slope of type C soil an unsafe means of egress under §1926.651(c)(2). In this scenario, where an employee does not use a stairway, ladder, ramp or other safe means of egress, which is located against a vertical shored excavation wall, §1926.651(c)(2) requires the employer to provide a mechanism - designed to prevent the sloped soil from crumbling (such as a ladder) - for the employee to walk on, in order to provide additional support for the employee's weight.
In situations where the slope is not designed under Appendix B's configurations, §1926.652(b) may permit an employer to cut steps into the slope of type C soil in extraordinary circumstances, such as, where a registered professional engineer approves cutting steps into the slope of type C soil under § 1926.652(b)(4). However, such steps must still meet the requirements of § 1926.651(c)(2) before they can be used as a means of egress.
Question #4: In a trench, does §1926.651(c)(2) permit an employer to cut steps into the excavation of sloped or benched type B soil to provide the only means of egress from the excavation?
Answer #4: As explained in the answer to question #3, the sloping and benching configurations of Appendix A and B apply here. Appendix B permits an employer to bench type B soil only where the soil is cohesive. Therefore, Appendix B permits an employer to cut steps into the benching system of a type B soil excavation where the benching system consists of cohesive soil only. Furthermore, the top edge of each step, excluding the bottom step, must be positioned so that the entire length of the steps is below the envelope of the maximum allowable slope in Appendix B. Please see the diagram below, which appears in Appendix B, as an illustration.
Furthermore, as a practical matter, the height and width of each step cannot be too high or too narrow, so that the steps are hard to climb and, consequently, they provide an unsafe means of egress under §1926.651(c)(2).
If the type B soil is not cohesive soil, then the employer may be permitted to cut steps into the slope only in the extraordinary circumstance where §1926.652(b) permits another option for benching an excavation, such as, where a registered professional engineer approves cutting steps into the slope of type B soil under §1926.652(b)(4). However, such steps must still meet the requirements of § 1926.651(c)(2) before they can be used as a means of egress.
The above answer and supporting rationale similarly applies to cutting steps into an excavation of sloped type B soil.
Bill Parsons, Acting Director
Directorate of Construction
1OSHA believes that questions 3, 4 and 5 encompass your other two questions, which asked about 1926.651(c)(1)(v)'s requirements for steps because the requirements for steps (used as egress) are contained in 1926.651(c)(2), not 1926.651(c)(1)(v). Section 1926.651(c)(1)(v) applies to structural ramps and runways only and "specifies five general requirements for the design and construction of ramps and runways." 54 Fed. Reg. 45916 (Oct. 31, 1989). [back to text]