In December 2010, OSHA issued Compliance Guidance for Residential Construction, rescinding the Interim Fall Protection Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction.  The new standards took effect last week, but citations for fall protection violations will commence September 15, 2011, with a three-month grace period for employers complying with the old guidelines.

Falls are the leading cause of death for workers employed at residential construction sites.  The new guidelines will hopefully assist residential construction employers with fall protection safety issues.  The new regulations require that workers “engaged in residential construction activities six feet or more above lower levels shall be protected” by guardrails, safety nets, or a personal fall arrest system.  In some instances, other fall protection measures are acceptable.  If an employer demonstrates that the above-mentioned fall protections are infeasible or present a greater hazard, then the employer must implement an alternative fall protection plan.

OSHA imposes a duty upon every residential construction employer to inspect a work site and determine if fall protection measures are necessary.  Employees are not permitted to work until the employer inspects a site and implements necessary protections.  Fall protection measures are not required for workers inspecting, assessing, or investigating site conditions prior to the actual beginning of construction work.

“Residential construction” includes any construction where the end-use of a structure is intended to be a home or dwelling, and the structure is built using traditional wood frame construction materials and methods.  The limited use of other materials or methods does not disqualify construction from being residential.  If you’re an employer involved in such construction, take a look at the following summary of the OSHA’s new guidelines:

General Conditions Requiring Fall Protection Measures

  • Unprotected Sides and Edges six feet or more above lower levels;
  • Leading Edges six feet or more above lower levels;
  • Hoist Areas where a worker could fall six feet or more;
  • Holes (including skylights) that are six feet or more above lower levels;
  • Formwork and Reinforcing Steel assemblies when employees are mobile 24 feet above the walking surface (otherwise the assembly hand or foot holds are adequate protection);
  • Ramps, Runways and Walkways positioned six feet or more above lower levels;
  • Excavations six feet or deeper;
  • Dangerous Equipment if an employee is working less than six feet above it;
  • Bricklaying and Related Work when performed six feet or more above lower levels;
  • Roofing Work on steep and low-slope roofs six feet or more above lower levels;
  • Precast Concrete Erection six feet or more above lower levels;
  • Wall Openings six feet or more above lower levels where the bottom edge of the opening is less than 39 inches above the walking surface.

Common Residential Construction Activities Requiring Fall Protection Measures

  • Installing Roof Trusses
  • Installing Ridge Poles and Rafters
  • Installing Roof Sheathing
  • Roofing – Weatherproofing
  • Foundation Walls and Formwork
  • Installing Floor Joists and Trusses
  • Installing Subfloors
  • Installing Walls
  • Sheathing Walls
  • Exterior Finishing
  • Interior Finishing

Satisfactory Fall Protection Measures

  • Guardrails
  • Safety Nets
  • Personal Fall Arrest Systems
  • Positioning Device Systems
  • Warning Line Systems
  • Controlled Access Zones
  • Safety Monitoring Systems
  • Covers
  • Toeboards
  • Canopies
  • Bracket and Mobile Scaffolds
  • Pump Jack Scaffolds
  • Ladders
  • Strap and Bolt-on Anchors
  • Permanent Roof Anchors
  • Retractable Anchors
  • Truss Bracket Anchors
  • Wall Jacks
  • Aerial Lift

Alternative Fall Protection Plans

If conventional fall protection measures are infeasible or create greater hazards, then an employer must implement an Alternative Fall Protection Plan, or FPP.  A satisfactory FPP must:

  1. Be prepared by a qualified person for each specific residential construction work site.
  2. Be updated regularly and implemented only by a competent, qualified person.
  3. Be copied and maintained at each work site.
  4. State why conventional fall protection measures are infeasible or create greater hazards.
  5. Include written discussion of other measures that will reduce or eliminate fall hazards.
  6. Identify each location where conventional fall protection measures cannot be used.  Such locations will be designated controlled access zones, allowing authorized personnel only.
  7. Provide identification of individuals permitted to work in any controlled access zone.
  8. Implement safety monitoring systems for sites without fall protection measures or an FPP.
  9. Review the FPP for changes upon any occurrence of an employee falling.

Additional Resources

James "Mac" Heslep defends employers against claims of work-related injury and illness. His practice began with a focus on the defense of state workers’ compensation claims. Since 2004, he has defended more than 2,000 protests before the West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Office of Judges.
» See more articles by James W. Heslep
» Read the full biography of James W. Heslep at Steptoe & Johnson

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