May 25, 2011
Mr. Frank Baxter
L.F. Driscoll Co.
9 Presidential Blvd.
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004
Re: Residential Construction; 1926.501(b)(3), fall protection or metal stud walls around stairwells
Dear Mr. Baxter,
Thank for your February 20, 2006 letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in which you ask for guidance regarding the application of OSHA fall protection requirements. First you ask if a six story apartment building constructed with exterior walls made of masonry brick or block walls is considered residential construction. As you were informed by phone, OSHA recently issued guidance that addresses this inquiry in the "Definition" section of the enclosed compliance directive, STD 03-11-002, Compliance Guidance for Residential Construction.
Secondly, per a recent phone message, you ask that we still address your other question regarding fall protection requirements for construction work performed around stairwell and mechanical chase openings. We have paraphrased your question as follows:
Question: I have reviewed a letter of interpretation, dated December 22, 2003, to Mr. Gerald M. Howard in which OSHA, in most cases, does not require the use of additional fall protection when unsheathed stud walls surround stairwells and mechanical chase openings. In that letter, OSHA states that when there are only 14 ½- inch gaps between the studs, those gaps do not meet the definition of a wall opening and the employer generally does not need to provide additional fall protection to prevent its workers from falls through the gaps to a lower level. However, I believe that steel studs are more flexible than wooden 2X4s and might not prevent employees from falling. Does it make a difference if the unsheathed stud walls around the stairwell or mechanical chase opening are constructed of steel studs instead of wooden 2X4s?
Response: For the purposes of the scenario described in your letter, OSHA generally recognizes light-gauge, steel studs as equivalent to 2X4 wooden studs. As with 2X4 framing, when there are no "wall openings" in steel stud wall framing, the employer generally does not need to provide additional fall protection meeting criteria specified in Subpart M to prevent workers from falling through the gaps. Although we agree that steel studs may be more flexible than wood in wall framing, we conclude that they will typically be strong enough to prevent a worker from unintentionally walking or falling through the unsheathed stud wall framing. However, as OSHA explained in the December 22, 2003, letter, additional fall protection (such as covers or guardrails) will be necessary in situations where it is reasonably foreseeable that workers will intentionally step through the stud wall. Moreover, in any situation in which an employer has determined that the strength of steel studs will not protect employees from unintentionally falling through the unsheathed stud wall to a lower level, the employer still has the obligation to protect its employees from that identified fall hazard in accordance with appropriate requirements in Subpart M.
Please also note that OSHA safety standards and guidance are minimum requirements and employers always maintain the option to implement more stringent protective measures and work practices.
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 and to view all OSHA's standards, you can 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.
James G. Maddux, Director
Directorate of Construction