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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.
March 12, 2013
Maine Marine Trades Association
P.O. Box 3551
Portland, ME 04104
Dear Ms. Swanton:
This letter is in response to your request to Mr. Stephen Butler, Director, Office of Maritime Enforcement, concerning the use of a boatswain's chair suspended by a crane in the boat-building and boat-repair industry. This letter constitutes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) interpretation only of the requirements discussed, and may not be applicable to any questions not detailed in your original correspondence. We apologize for the lengthy delay in our response. Your question and our reply are below.
Question: Paraphrasing your letter, you asked if OSHA standards permit employers to use a crane to hoist workers in boatswain's chairs to a worksite to perform boat-building and boat-repair work when it may be either unsafe or infeasible to use the halyard of a boat's mast for this purpose.
Reply: Using a combination of a crane and a boatswain's chair to hoist workers is not directly addressed in OSHA's Shipyard Employment Standards at 29 CFR 1915, which cover boat-building and boat-repair work. In such situations OSHA looks to other OSHA standards for guidance. The only OSHA standard that directly addresses using cranes to hoist workers is 29 CFR 1926, Subpart C (Cranes and Derricks in Construction), which covers cranes used in the construction industry, specifically §1431 (Hoisting personnel). Paragraph (a) of that section states, in part:
The use of equipment to hoist employees is prohibited except where the employer demonstrates that the erection, use, and dismantling of conventional means of reaching the work area, such as a personnel hoist, ladder, stairway, aerial lift; elevating work platform, or scaffold, would be more hazardous, or is not possible because of the project's structural design or worksite conditions.
OSHA interprets this provision to disallow use of a crane to hoist workers unless no other safe method specified by paragraph (a), such as an aerial lift, is possible. We note that your letter does not explain why the use of an alternate means of access, such as an aerial lift, is not feasible1 or presents a greater hazard than hoisting workers using a crane and boatswain's chair.
If an employer demonstrates that using an aerial lift or other means of access identified by paragraph (a) is unsafe or infeasible, then the employer may use a crane and personnel platform to access the worksite (see §1926.1431 (b)). In using a personnel platform for this purpose, the employer must comply with the extensive safety requirements specified by the remaining provisions of §1926.1431. The employer may use a boatswain's chair instead of a personnel platform only when the employer can demonstrate that using a personnel platform is less safe than using a boatswain's chair, or is infeasible due to circumstances at the worksite.
Based on the information you provided in your letter, we understand that the workers perform their work on boats that are in the water; consequently, the boats, including masts and rigging, are subject to movement caused by wave and wind action. It is not clear from your letter how employers would protect workers using a crane-hoisted boatswain's chair from impact hazards such as the masts and rigging under these conditions. Failure to protect workers from impact hazards would violate the employer's duty to provide a safe work environment under Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA's requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations. Our letters of interpretation of the requirements discussed. From time to time, letters are affected when the agency updates a standard, a legal decision impacts a standard, or changes in technology affect the interpretation. To assure that you are using the correct information and guidance, please consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact the Directorate of Enforcement Programs at (202) 693-2100.
Thomas Galassi, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs
cc: OSHA Region I
1. Note that economic burden is not a basis for claiming infeasibility.