With an apparent indifference to one of the worst housing markets in recent decades, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently breathed new life into an effectively dormant rule that undoubtedly has the potential to increase costs and slow production rates for the already struggling residential construction industry. Specifically, on December 22, 2010 – less than a week after the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly announced that privately-owned housing starts in November 2010 were 5.8 percent below the November 2009 rate — OSHA issued a new directive, Fall Protection in Residential Construction (STD 03-11-002), that rescinded the agency’s Interim Fall Protection Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction (STD 03-00-001) (hereinafter “Interim Guidelines”). See 75 F.R. 80315 (Dec. 22, 2010).
A New Directive That Revives an Old Standard:
Prior to the issuance of the new directive (STD 03-11-002), the Interim Guidelines (effective since 1995) allowed residential construction employers to utilize specific alternative methods of fall protection (e.g., safety monitor systems or slide guards) in lieu of the conventional, and more onerous, methods of fall protection that are required under OSHA’s Residential Construction Fall Protection Standard (e.g., personal fall arrest systems, guardrails, or safety nets). The use of alternative methods of fall protection described in the Interim Guidelines was permitted without the need to develop a written fall protection plan or first prove that the use of conventional fall protection was infeasible or created a greater hazard.
Now, with the issuance of OSHA’s new directive, all employers that are engaged in residential construction activities must comply with OSHA’s Residential Construction Fall Protection Standard (29 C.F.R. §1926.501(b)(13)) which, although originally promulgated in 1994, was essentially relaxed for the better part of two decades.
OSHA’s Residential Construction Fall Protection Standard requires that workers who perform residential construction activities at heights of six feet or more above lower levels must be protected by either: (i) conventional fall protection (e.g., guardrails, safety nets, and/or personal fall arrest systems); or (ii) other fall protection measures that are permitted elsewhere in 29 C.F.R. §1926.501(b) (e.g., the use of warning lines and safety monitoring systems during the performance of roofing work on low-sloped roofs).
Fall Arrest & Restraint Systems:
Acceptable personal fall arrest systems may consist of an anchorage point, a full body harness, and a deceleration device or lanyard. See 29 C.F.R. §1926.500(b).
As an alternative to personal fall arrest systems, the Residential Construction Fall Protection Standard also allows for the use of effective fall restraint systems. To be effective, fall restraint systems must be rigged to prevent workers from reaching a fall hazard and falling over an edge. For example, a fall restraint systems may consist of a full body harness or body belt that is connected to an anchor point at the center of a roof by a lanyard of a length that will not allow a worker to physically reach the edge of the roof. See OSHA FACT SHEET, FALL PROTECTION IN RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION, available at www.OSHA.gov.
Fall Protection Plans:
In the past, written fall protection plans were not required to be implemented before a home builder was permitted to establish alternative fall protection methodologies for its employees. Now, only if an employer is able to demonstrate that the use of conventional fall protection measures will create an even greater hazard for workers, or is infeasible, can the employer implement a written fall protection plan that identifies non-conventional fall protection measures that will be taken to reduce or eliminate a particular fall hazard. See 29 C.F.R. §§ 1926.501(b)(13) & 502(k), If implemented, a written fall protection plan must be site-specific. As regards this requirement, OSHA has stated that a written plan developed for repetitive use for a particular style/model home is acceptable “only if it fully addresses all issues related to fall protection at that site.” OSHA Directive STD 03-11-002 (Dec. 16, 2010).
OSHA’s Residential Construction Fall Protection Standard applies to “residential construction” work. According to OSHA, “the term ‘residential construction’ is interpreted as covering construction work that satisfies the following two elements: (1) the end-use of the structure being built must be as a home, i.e., a dwelling; and (2) the structure being built must be constructed using traditional wood frame construction materials and methods.” OSHA Directive STD 03-11-002 (Dec. 16, 2010). See also 29 C.F.R. §1926.501(b)(13). A limited use of structural steel in a predominantly wood-framed home, such as a steel I-beam, will not disqualify a structure from being considered “residential construction.” See id.
The support structures for nursing homes, hotels, and similar facilities are typically constructed with precast concrete, steel I-beams (beyond the limited use of steel I-beams in conjunction with wood framing), rebar, and/or poured concrete, which are not materials that are used in traditional wood frame construction. Accordingly, the construction of nursing homes, hotels, and similar facilities will not ordinarily qualify as “residential construction” that is subject to compliance with OSHA’s Residential Construction Fall Protection Standard. See OSHA Directive STD 03-11-002 (Dec. 16, 2010).
In June 2011, OSHA announced a three-month enforcement phase-in period for compliance with its Residential Construction Fall Protection Standard (29 C.F.R. §1926.501(b)(13)). During the phase-in enforcement period, which began on June 16, 2011 and will run through September 15, 2011, if an employer is complying with the “old directive” (Interim Fall Protection Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction (STD 03-00-001)), OSHA will not issue citations, but, instead, will issue a Hazard Alert Letter informing the employer of the methods that may feasibly be used to comply with the Residential Construction Fall Protection Standard. Alternatively, if the employer’s practices are not in compliance with the “old directive,” OSHA will issue citations. After an employer has received a Hazard Alert Letter, OSHA will issue citations to the employer if — during a subsequent inspection — OSHA finds that the employer has failed to implement the measures that were detailed in a Hazard Alert Letter. Click here to see OSHA QUICKTAKES (Volume 10, Issue 12)