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.

June 21, 2013

Ms. Jennifer Coon, CHMM, CET
Tank Industry Consultants Inc.
7740 West New York Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46214

Dear Ms. Coon:

Thank you for your letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), dated March 22, 2013. Your question was forwarded to the Directorate of Enforcement Programs. You requested an interpretation of OSHA's standard for guardrail systems, 29 CFR 1910.23(e)(3).

Your paraphrased scenario, as confirmed by a telephone conversation with my staff on April 17, 2013, question, and our response, follow.

Scenario: A general industry workplace uses structural steel railings to prevent falls. The top rail is 42-inch nominal height and the top rail and posts (spaced not more than 8 feet on centers) are constructed of 2-inch by 2-inch by 3/8-inch angles or other metal shapes of equivalent bending strength. The completed structure is capable of withstanding a load of at least 200 pounds applied in any direction at any point on the top rail. An intermediate rail is present and:

  • Is of a smaller size than 2-inch by 2-inch by 3/8-inch angle;
  • Has less bending strength; and
  • Can withstand at least 200 pounds of applied pressure.

Question: Is it acceptable under §1910.23(e)(3)(v) for an intermediate rail to be smaller than 2-inch by 2-inch by 3/8-inch angles and have less bending strength if it is capable of withstanding a load of at least 200 pounds?

Reply: Paragraph (e)(3)(iii) of §1910.23 establishes the requirements for structural steel railing systems in general industry settings. Under §1910.23(e)(3)(iii), installations, posts and top and intermediate rails are to be of 2-inch by 2-inch by 3/8-inch angles or other metal shapes of equivalent bending strength with posts spaced not more than 8 feet on centers. Pursuant to §1910.23(e)(3)(iv), the anchoring of posts and framing of members for railings of all types must he of such construction that the completed structure is capable of withstanding a load of at least 200 pounds applied in any direction at any point on the top rail.

However, under §1910.23(e)(3)(v), other types, sizes, and arrangements of railing construction are acceptable provided they meet the following conditions:

  • A smooth-surfaced top rail at a height above floor, platform, runway, or ramp level of 42-inches nominal (§1910.23(e)(3)(v)(a));
  • A strength to withstand at least the minimum requirement of 200 pounds top rail pressure (§1910.23(e)(3)(v)(b));
  • Protection between top rail and floor, platform, runway, or stair treads, equivalent at least to that afforded by a standard intermediate rail (§1910.23(e)(3)(v)(c)).

The rail system that you have described meets the criteria under §1910.23(e)(3)(v)(a) and §1910.23(e)(3)(v)(b). The top rail is smooth surfaced and is 42-inches nominal height and the railing system has the strength to withstand at least 200 pounds of applied top rail pressure. It is acceptable that the intermediate rail is smaller than 2-inch by 2-inch by 3/8-inch angles. However, the intermediate rail does not have a bending strength equivalent to that afforded by a standard intermediate rail, as required under §1910.23(e)(3)(v)(c).

Under the circumstances presented, OSHA would consider a smaller intermediate rail that is capable of withstanding at least 150 pounds of force applied in any direction at any point along the rail as a de minimis condition rather than a violation of the standard. De minimis conditions are deviations from the standards that have no direct or immediate relationship to safety or health. Under OSHA's de minimis policy, an employer may comply with a proposed standard or amendment, or, a consensus standard, rather than the standard in effect at the time of the inspection. With de minimis conditions, OSHA does not issue citations or require abatement.

OSHA has proposed to revise the existing rules for Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems), 75 FR 28862 (May 24, 2010), including the requirements under §1910.23(e).1 The requirements for fall protection systems criteria and practices are under proposed § 1910.29. Proposed paragraph (b)(5) requires midrails, screens, mesh, intermediate vertical members, solid panels, and equivalent structural members to be capable of withstanding, without failure, a force of at least 150 pounds (667 N) applied in any downward or outward direction at any point along the midrail or other member. The preamble to the proposed rule offers the following explanation about proposed §1910.29(b)(5):

The existing standard does not contain a strength requirement for midrails and this omission has caused confusion among employers. The proposed provision is nearly identical to OSHA's construction industry standard at § 1926.502(b)(5). In that rule, OSHA explained that it chose the 150 pound strength test because it had deter_alined that midrails need not be as strong as top rails to provide appropriate protection. OSHA also determined that a limit on deflection was not needed for midrails and other members. [75 FR 28862, 28894].

Therefore, if the structural steel guardrail system that you have described can withstand a force of more than 150 pounds, it would comply with OSHA's proposed rule for Fall Protection Systems. Accordingly, the deviation from the standard would be considered de minimis condition.

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 do not create new or additional requirements but rather explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances. This letter constitutes OSHA's 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 ensure that you are using the correct information and guidance, please consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact the Directorate of Enforcement Programs at (202) 693-2100.

Sincerely,

Thomas Galassi, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs


1 https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=FEDERAL_REGISTER&p_id=21518