- Standard Number:
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.
August 4, 2016
Douglas L. Easter, Consultant
49 Butternut Walk
Hoschton, GA 30548
Dear Mr. Easter:
Thank you for your letter dated February 4, 2016, requesting clarification of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) fall protection requirements. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of only the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not delineated in your original correspondence.
Background: The worksite you describe was a concrete and steel structure approximately 45 feet in height. (The photograph of the structure which you included with your letter is also included as an enclosure to this response). The walking/working surface for employees was on the top of the structure and did not have a guardrail for employee protection. There was a "catch platform" with a guardrail system, less than 6 feet below the walking/working surface, that extended 3 feet out from the edge of the structure. Although we do not have information about the dimensions of the guardrail system on the catch platform, it is clear from the photograph that the top rail was below the walking/working surface on top of the structure.
Question: Does this scenario comply with OSHA's fall protection requirements?
Answer: No. OSHA considers this scenario a violation of 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(1), which provides that "[e]ach employee on a walking/working surface... with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet... or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems." The fall protection standard defines the term "lower levels" as "those areas or surfaces to which an employee can fall." In this scenario, there were two lower levels. The first lower level was the catch platform. The second lower level was the ground. In OSHA's view, the catch platform did not prevent employees from falling to the ground; workers on the top of the structure could easily have fallen over the guardrails on the platform.
Although the potential fall of less than 6 feet to the catch platform did not trigger the fall protection requirements at 1926.501(b)(1), that standard did require fall protection to protect employees from the potential fall to the ground, 45 feet below the walking/working surface. To comply with OSHA's fall protection requirements in the pictured scenario, the employer could have either provided the fall protection specified in 1926.501(b)(1) (guardrails on the walking/working surface, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems) or modified the catch platform to ensure it would have prevented a falling employee from reaching the ground (thus eliminating the only potential fall of 6 feet or greater).
With respect to fall protection, the requirements for guardrails, safety nets, and personal fall arrest systems are specified in 29 CFR 1926.502(b), (c) and (d), respectively. The use of a fall restraint system could also have been considered, as OSHA accepts properly utilized fall restraint systems in lieu of fall arrest systems when the restraint system is rigged in such a way that it prevents a fall from the walking/working surface.1
In general, 29 CFR 1926.502(b)(1) specifies that the top edge of a guardrail system must be between 39 and 45 inches above the walking/working surface. Although OSHA does not know the dimensions of the guardrail system used at the worksite described in your letter, it is apparent from the photograph you provided that the top rail of the guardrail system on the catch platform was below the walking/working surface. Therefore, the guardrail system on the catch platform was not sufficient fall protection for the employees working on the walking/working surface of the structure. The employer could potentially have complied with 1926.501(b)(1) by raising the top rails on the pictured catch platform to a height 39-45 inches above the walking/working surface of the structure. (Note that to be considered sufficient fall protection for these workers, the guardrails on the catch platform would also have had to meet the strength and other requirements at 29 CFR 1926.502(b), including the requirements for midrails to prevent employees from falling through the guardrail system.)
As a possible alternative to raising the height of the guardrails on the catch platform, the employer could have extended the width of the catch platform far enough to ensure that a falling employee would land on the platform instead of falling over its guardrails to the ground. As a reference, OSHA's fall protection standards would require a safety net used in this scenario to extend 8 feet from the edge of the walking/working surface. See 29 CFR 1926.502(c)(2). With an extended catch platform preventing employees from falling to the ground, the catch platform would have been the only lower level, and (other than the guardrails on the platform itself) no additional fall protection would have been required given that the platform was less than 6 feet below the walking/working surface.
Please note that OSHA considers catch platforms, like the one in this scenario, to be "scaffolds" governed by 29 CFR 1926, Subpart L.2 Scaffolds are not necessarily designed to catch a person who has fallen from an elevated position onto the platform. Therefore, any reasonably anticipated dynamic loads need to be considered and factored into the design of any scaffolding intended to be used as a catch platform. Moreover, any scaffolds used as catch platforms must meet all applicable Subpart L requirements before they can safely be used to support, and catch, an employee.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. 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. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Directorate of Construction at (202) 693-2020.
Jeffrey A. Erskine, Acting Director
Directorate of Construction
1 OSHA suggests that, at a minimum, fall restraint systems have the capacity to withstand at least 3,000 pounds of force or twice the maximum expected force needed to restrain the employee from exposure to the fall hazard.
2 Subpart L defines "scaffold" as "any temporary elevated platform (supported or suspended) and its supporting structure (including points of anchorage), used for supporting employees or materials or both." 29 CFR 1926.450(b).