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.

October 1, 2019

David Hickey
International Sign Association
1001 North Fairfax Street, Suite 301
Alexandria, VA 22314

Dear Mr. Hickey:

Thank you for your July 11, 2019, letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), regarding the applicability of OSHA's construction standards in 29 CFR part 1926 to employers engaged in certain commercial sign installation activities. You request guidance about whether those activities are covered by OSHA's construction standards (29 CFR part 1926) or general industry standards (29 CFR part 1910). In particular, you note that additional guidance would be appreciated because OSHA's Cranes and Derricks in Construction standard sets out qualification requirements for crane operators, including operator certification for operators of large cranes, but those requirements only apply to operators engaged in construction activities and not to operators engaged in general industry activities.

OSHA defines "construction work" as "work for construction, alteration, and/or repair, including painting and decorating." 29 C.F.R. § 1910.12(b) and § 1926.32. Section 1910.12(a) further provides that OSHA's construction industry standards apply "to every employment and place of employment of every employee engaged in construction work."

OSHA has long distinguished "maintenance work," covered under OSHA's 29 CFR 1910 general industry standards, from "construction work." In a November 2003 letter to Raymond Knobbs, OSHA provided guidance on this distinction. The letter summarized previous guidance, including the following statement:

…work that is anticipated, routine and done on a regularly scheduled/periodic basis to help maintain the original condition of the component, will be suggestive of "maintenance," although this must be considered in light of the scale of the project… . If the work consists of repair as opposed to replacement, a key factor is whether those repairs are extensive. If the work consists of removal and replacement of equipment, an important factor is whether the new equipment is of an improved type.

OSHA elaborated that some in-kind replacement can be construction activity:

In addition to the concept of one-for-one replacement versus improvement, the scale and complexity of the project are relevant. This takes into consideration concepts such as the amount of time and material required to complete the job. For example, if a steel beam in a building had deteriorated and was to be replaced by a new, but identical beam, the project would be considered a construction repair rather than maintenance because of the replacement project's scale and complexity…Replacement of a section of limestone cladding on a building, though not necessarily a large project in terms of scale, would typically be considered construction because it is a complex task in view of the steps involved and tools and equipment needed to do the work…the physical size of an object that is being worked on can be a factor if, because of its size, the process of removal and replacement involves significantly altering the structure or equipment that the component is within.

OSHA's regulations also make clear the extent to which certain activities are considered construction or general industry. For example, OSHA has clarified that demolition (encompassing removal of most materials) is subject to OSHA's construction standards. OSHA construction standards address demolition work (29 CFR 1926 Subpart T), and there is no corollary provision in the general industry standards.

At our meeting on March 5, 2019, the Agency noted that it continues to engage construction stakeholders and develop guidance to assist employers with their compliance with crane and derrick requirements. During that meeting, OSHA confirmed that most routine removal and replacements of billboards and other types of commercial signs that are designed for such removals and replacements are not typically considered construction activities. Determining whether particular activities are subject to OSHA's construction or general industry standards, however, requires a case by case fact-specific analysis. Therefore, the existence of one factor considered alone, as described above, usually does not definitively determine whether an activity is construction. For the purposes of responding to your inquiry, we have attempted to identify the standard that would typically apply to the specific activities you describe.

Removal and Replacement of Like-In-Kind Components: More information needed

In general, more information about the scale and complexity of the project, including the size of the items and the manner in which they are (or will be) attached to other structures, would be needed to make determinations about the following activities you list:

  • setting or removing a pole and installing or removing signs on the poles
  • installing a sign structure onto a building or removing the structure from the building (roof, building front or wall)
  • removing a historic sign for a renovation /restoration, and then re-installing it
  • replacing a sign face due to a change in occupancy

The initial installation of a sign or pole will generally be a construction activity. However, replacement of existing signs or with in-kind materials may not be construction activity depending on the scale and complexity of the project. For example, the activities you identify typically would not be construction activities if the pole/sign is being replaced (as distinguished from initial installation) with like-in-kind components that would not constitute an improved type of sign or associated materials. However, if the pole replacement could not be completed without demolishing, dismantling, or significantly altering the surrounding equipment/structures, that activity would typically be considered construction.

Replacement of stadium scoreboard as a large-scale, complex project

One activity identified in the request -installation/removal of existing stadium scoreboards (post stadium construction)- will typically be subject to OSHA's construction standards, even if an old scoreboard is replaced with a nearly identical new scoreboard, because stadium scoreboards are generally large enough that the scale and complexity of the project cannot be considered routine.

New installations

ISA listed several sign installation activities that are alterations and upgrades to structures/equipment or completions of a construction process. In contrast to removal and replacement of like in-kind components structure/equipment, new installations and upgrades are a common type of alteration that would typically be considered construction. One common factor in most of these examples that must be considered is that the employer is building or attaching something new that was not previously part of the structure/equipment:

  • installing an awning /canopy onto a building
  • improving an electrical sign by retrofitting it with new energy efficient lighting system
  • using a crane with a remote control [personnel] basket to install a banner (on a pole, building, etc.)
  • installation of a wall sign onto façade of a building while other construction activities occur at the site
  • installation/removal of new stadium scoreboards (post stadium construction)

OSHA reviewed guidance in the Frequently Asked Questions regarding commercial sign replacement (as distinguished from initial installment). OSHA believes this guidance is consistent with all similar guidance provided.

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. 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 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 Construction at (202) 693-2020.

Sincerely,

 

Scott C. Ketcham, Acting Director
Directorate of Construction