Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents
• Standard Number: 1926.32(f); 1926.501(b); 1926.501(b)(2); 1926.501(b)(12); 1926.501(b)(13); 1926.502(c)(4); 1926.502(c)(4)(ii); 1926.502(d)(19); 1926.502(d)(20); 1926.502(d)(21); 1926.502(k); 1926.503(a)(2); 1926.503(a)(2)(ii); 1926.503(a)(2)(vii)


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.


December 18, 2003

Mr. Michael Wright, PE
Managing Principal
LJB, Inc.
3100 Research Boulevard
P.O. Box 20246
Dayton, OH 45420-0246

Re: Inspection of personal fall arrest systems; competent person; fall protection plans; §1926.501(b)(2), (12), and (13); §1926.502(c)(4) and (d)(20) and (21); and §1926.503(a)(2)

Dear Mr. Wright:

This is in response to your letter dated August 4, 2003, faxed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asking for clarification on a number of issues regarding OSHA's construction industry standards for fall protection. My staff discussed and resolved some of your questions with you over the telephone. We have paraphrased the remainder of your questions as follows:

Question (1): How often must a construction employer inspect his/her employees' personal fall arrest systems (PFAS)? Would formal inspections performed once annually be the maximum amount of time permitted between inspections?

Answer:
Paragraph (d)(21) of §1926.502 addresses the inspection of personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), as follows:
§1926.502 Fall protection systems criteria and practices.
* * * * * *
(d) Personal fall arrest systems.
* * * * * *
(21) Personal fall arrest systems shall be inspected prior to each use for wear, damage and other deterioration, and defective components shall be removed from service.
* * * * * *
Note that in the preamble to the final rule (at volume 59 of the Federal Register, pages 40709-40710, August 9, 1994, excerpted below), OSHA stated that weekly inspections would not be sufficient to guard against the use of defective equipment. Leading to promulgation of final rule §1926.502(d)(21), the Agency specifically sought comments on the frequency of inspection for fall protection equipment in separate issues [#9 and #17] as part of the proposed rule. Based on the rulemaking record, OSHA did not amend the language in the proposed rule regarding the frequency of inspections of PFAS to set out a time frame. Some pertinent portions of that preamble discussion are as follows:
Paragraph (d)(21) (proposed as paragraph (d)(20)) requires that personal fall arrest systems be inspected prior to each use for damage and deterioration, and that defective components be removed from service. This provision is essentially identical to the proposed provision in §1926.502(d)(20).
OSHA raised Issues #9 and #17 in the proposal to request public comment regarding the frequency of inspection and whether or not more definitive inspection criteria were needed for determining when personal fall arrest systems (or positioning device systems, as regulated in paragraph (e)(5), below) are no longer suitable for use. OSHA also asked commenters what inspection criteria should be specified.
* * * * * *
The majority of the commenters thought the criteria provided in the standard were sufficient as proposed (Exs. 2-12, 2-19, 2-23, 2-43, and 2-45)….
* * * * * *
The GLFEA and the BCMALU (Exs. 2-19 and 2-46) thought inspection should be weekly rather than prior to each use. The GLFEA supported its position with the statement that "A more frequent schedule does not enhance the safety of the employees." Essentially, there was no objection to the substance of the rule, only disagreement on the frequency of inspection. OSHA believes it is critical to inspect equipment before each use; otherwise, employees may use defective equipment which could result in loss of life in the event of a fall. Therefore, OSHA has not reduced the frequency of inspection and has determined that the provision, as proposed, is appropriate. Further information on inspection criteria has been provided in paragraph (g) Inspection considerations in Part II of Appendix C relating to §1926.502(d) -- Personal Fall Arrest Systems. OSHA also notes that this provision is consistent with the inspection requirements for personal fall arrest systems in the powered platforms standard, §1910.66.
* * * * * *
Therefore, annual inspections instead of inspections prior to each use would violate §1926.502(d)(21).

Question (2): Does Part 1926 Subpart M require that personal fall arrest systems be inspected by a competent person?

Answer:

The inspection of personal fall arrest systems required in §1926.502(d)(21) does not have to be performed by a "competent person."
1 However, §1926.503(a)(2) states:
The employer shall assure that each employee has been trained, as necessary, by a competent person qualified in the following areas:
* * * *
(ii) The correct procedures for . . . inspecting the fall protection systems to be used.
* * * *
Therefore, under §§1926.502(d)(21) and 1926.503(a)(2)(ii), the equipment must be inspected prior to each use by an employee who has been trained by a competent person to do the inspection.

Also, under §1926.502(d)(19), a competent person must inspect personal fall arrest equipment to determine that personal fall arrest systems and components subjected to impact loading are undamaged and suitable for reuse
2:
Personal fall arrest systems and components subjected to impact loading shall be immediately removed from service and shall not be used again for employee protection until inspected and determined by a competent person to be undamaged and suitable for reuse.
Question (3): Before any employee is permitted to work at heights that would require the use of a written fall protection plan, must a preplanning meeting be conducted to prepare a written rescue plan?

Answer
Under §1926.501(b), employees doing construction work at a height of 6 feet or more above lower levels must be protected from falls. However, Subpart M does not require a fall protection plan unless the employer is using alternative fall protection methods to protect employees performing leading-edge work, precast concrete erection, or residential construction (§1926.501(b)(2)(i), (12), and (13), respectively). Those three provisions allow employers engaged in the work specified to develop and implement a fall protection plan that uses alternative fall protection methods if they can demonstrate the infeasibility of conventional fall protection.
3 The three provisions [§1926.501(b)(2)(i), (12), and (13)] read as follows:
§1926.501 Duty to have fall protection.
* * * * * *
(b)(1) * * *
(2) Leading edges. (i) Each employee who is constructing a leading edge 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above lower levels shall be protected from falling by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems. Exception: When the employer can demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use these systems, the employer shall develop and implement a fall protection plan which meets the requirements of paragraph (k) of §1926.502.
Note: There is a presumption that it is feasible and will not create a greater hazard to implement at least one of the above-listed fall protection systems. Accordingly, the employer has the burden of establishing that it is appropriate to implement a fall protection plan which complies with §1926.502(k) for a particular workplace situation, in lieu of implementing any of those systems.
* * * * * *
(12) Precast concrete erection. Each employee engaged in the erection of precast concrete members (including, but not limited to the erection of wall panels, columns, beams, and floor and roof "tees") and related operations such as grouting of precast concrete members, who is 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above lower levels shall be protected from falling by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems, unless another provision in paragraph (b) of this section provides for an alternative fall protection measure. Exception: When the employer can demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use these systems, the employer shall develop and implement a fall protection plan which meets the requirements of paragraph (k) of §1926.502.
* * * * * *
(13) Residential construction. Each employee engaged in residential construction activities 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above lower levels shall be protected by guardrail systems, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system unless another provision in paragraph (b) of this section provides for an alternative fall protection measure. Exception: When the employer can demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use these systems, the employer shall develop and implement a fall protection plan which meets the requirements of paragraph (k) of §1926.502.
* * * * * *
As stated in the three provisions above, §1926.502(k) sets out specific requirements for fall protection plans; however, §1926.502(k) does not require preplanning meetings.
4

Question (4): Does OSHA's provision for prompt rescue from personal fall arrest systems in the event of a fall require the use of a written plan? What constitutes "prompt"?

Answer
With regard to rescuing employees from personal fall arrest systems, the provision in Subpart M that addresses this is §1926.502(d)(20), which states:
§1926.502 Fall protection systems criteria and practices.
* * * * * *
(d) Personal fall arrest systems.
* * * * * *
(20) The employer shall provide for prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves.
As explained in interpretation letters to
J. Nigel Ellis (May 11, 1999) and Charles Hill (August 14, 2000), the particular hazard that §1926.502(d)(20) addresses is being suspended by the fall arrest system after an arrested fall. In the Hill letter, we stated:
Prompt rescue, as required under §1926.502(d)(20), is not defined in the standard. The particular hazard that §1926.502(d)(20) addresses is being suspended by the fall arrest system after a fall. While an employee may be safely suspended in a body harness for a longer period than from a body belt, the word "prompt" requires that rescue be performed quickly -- in time to prevent serious injury to the worker.

You note that electrical utility and telecommunications workers sometimes work alone and that the employees' "status is maintained through normal work rules and operating procedures." We recognize that there are a wide range of variables and circumstances between worksites. The standard requires that, to the extent feasible, a reliable system be in place to ensure that rescue will be prompt. Precisely what is required to comply with this provision in a remote location will depend on what is feasible under the particular circumstances. The range of feasible options available in remote locations may be more limited than in more populated areas.
Note that §1926.502(d)(20) does not require that a written rescue plan be prepared or that a preplanning event be held.

If you need additional information, please contact us by fax at: U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA, [Directorate of Construction, Office of Construction Standards and Guidance], fax # 202-693-1689. You can also contact us by mail at the above office, Room N3468, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, although there will be a delay in our receiving correspondence by mail.

Sincerely,


Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction


[Corrected 12/18/03]


1 Under 29 CFR 1926.32(f), "competent person" is defined 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. [ back to text ]


2 Also, note that under 1926.502(c)(4)(ii), "when the employer can demonstrate that it is unreasonable to perform the drop-test [for nets] required by paragraph (c)(4)(i) of this section, the employer (or a designated competent person) shall certify that the net and net installation is in compliance with the provisions of paragraphs (c)(3) and (c)(4)(i) of this section by preparing a certification record . . . . [ back to text ]


3 Appendix E to Subpart M provides sample fall protection plans containing required elements that employers engaged in those three specified circumstances can follow to be considered to be in compliance with Subpart M. [ back to text ]


4 Note, though, that under §1926.503(a)(2)(vii), employees must receive training that addresses the role of employees in fall protection plans. Also, as a practical matter, an employer will need to make some preparations to enable it to meet the rescue requirement in the event of an arrested fall. [ back to text ]


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