It is important to note that it is presumed feasible and will not create a greater hazard to implement at least one of the listed fall protection systems. (MSA photo)

OSHA's New Fall Protection Directive for Residential Construction

The required compliance deadline will now go into effect Sept. 15, 2012.

At the height of the construction boom, the residential building community explained to OSHA that it needed more "compliance flexibility" than the Fall Protection Standard (1926.500) permitted. Conventional fall protection had included the use of guardrails, safety nets, and/or personal fall arrest systems.

In June 1999, OSHA answered with the issuance of Directive Number STD 03-00-001. This directive had allowed employers engaged in residential construction work, without first proving that the use of conventional fall protection systems proved impractical or created a greater hazard, to use alternative methods (slide guards, safety monitoring systems, etc.) to protect workers from fall hazards.1 This directive essentially provided residential construction employers an exemption from the conventional fall protection mandates found in 29 CFR 1926.501(b) (13), which defines fall protection requirements for residential construction activities.

However, Directive STD 03-00-001 never was intended to be a permanent resolution. From its inception, OSHA stated the guidance would remain in effect until further notice or until completion of a new formal rulemaking effort. And since that time, there have been significant advances in the types and capability of commercial fall protection equipment available for use in residential construction.2

In addition, due to statistics showing the continued high numbers of fall-related fatalities in residential construction, the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and the Occupational Safety and Health State Plan Association recommended the withdrawal of directive STD 03-00-001. "Falls continue to be the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry," said Jim Maddux, director of OSHA's Directorate of Construction. "Even though construction work has been on the decline over the last few years, 260 construction workers died from falls in 2010."3

Because fall hazards pose such a significant risk of serious injury and/or death for construction workers, compliance is necessary to protect these workers from such hazards. Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor for OSHA, was quoted as saying, "We cannot tolerate workers getting killed in residential construction when effective means are readily available to prevent those deaths."4

With that said, on Dec. 16, 2010, OSHA rescinded STD 03-00-001 and issued a new Directive STD 03-11-002. It requires all residential construction employers to comply with 29 CFR 1926.501 (b) (13). STD 03-00-001 had addressed only certain, specified types of residential construction work; withdrawing that directive should result in a more consistent enforcement policy with respect to all residential construction activities.

Requirements of 29CFR 1926.501(b) (13)
What does this mean? In short, it means that guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems must be used on residential job sites, in most instances.

OSHA defines residential construction as work that meets both of the following: (1) The primary use of the structure must be as a home; and (2) The structure must be built using traditional wood frame construction materials and methods.

Each employee engaged in residential construction activities 6 feet (1.8 meters) or more above lower levels shall be protected by guardrail systems, a safety net system, or a personal fall arrest system unless another provision stipulated in the directive provides for an alternative fall protection measure. However, an exception can be made when the employer is able to demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use these systems. The employer shall develop and implement a fall protection plan that meets the requirements of paragraph (k) of 1926.502.

The fall protection plan's alternative measures must utilize safe work practices that eliminate or reduce the possibility of a fall. The plan must be written and be site-specific. A written plan developed for repetitive use for a particular style/model home will be considered site-specific with respect to a particular site only if it fully addresses all issues related to fall protection at that site.

Thus, the employer has the burden of establishing that it is appropriate to implement a fall protection plan which complies with 926.502(k) for a particular workplace situation, in lieu of implementing any of those systems.

It is important to note that it is presumed feasible and that it will not create a greater hazard to implement at least one of the above-listed fall protection systems.

You can read the full text of the directive at www.osha.gov/doc/residential_fall_protection.html.

Opposition to Directive STD 03-11-002
Opposition still remains to the cancellation of Directive STD 03-00-001. The opponents argue many of the requirements on specific safety issues would create unnecessary hardships on the roofing industry, in particular. Their argument was based on the following key points: the need for multiple fall protection anchor points during the construction project; excessive lifeline burn and trip hazards; excessive swing radius fall hazards on roofs; and the nature of a residential frame to present objects that could be struck by a worker during an arrested fall.5

STD 03-11-002 Compliance Deadline
Directive STD 03-11-002 was scheduled to take effect June 16, 2011. However, many urged OSHA to extend the deadline, arguing that home builders needed sufficient time to understand the steps that must be taken and to plan and budget for items associated with the withdrawal of the interim guidelines.6

OSHA agreed to extend the enforcement deadline. The current required compliance deadline will now go into effect Sept. 15, 2012. The temporary enforcement measures include priority free on-site compliance assistance, penalty reductions, extended abatement dates, measures to assure consistency, and increased outreach. Last year, with 7,139 violations, fall protection was ranked as the most-cited OSHA violation, and 2,979 violations were cited for residential construction, alone.7 It will be interesting to see how the number of citations is affected by the enforcement of the new directive come September and the impact it will have on the residential construction industry.

How to Ensure Compliance
Most fall protection equipment manufacturers offer complete roofers' kits that include everything you need to be compliant. These kits usually contain a full body harness, a length of rope and a rope grab, and a roof anchor.

Our advice is simple: Just remember your ABCs to help determine your specific needs. A = Anchorage (such as a roof anchor), B = Body support (full body harness), and C = Connector (rope and rope grab).

  • A= Anchorage. Roof anchors are available on the market in many types. Roof anchor selection is dependent upon the type of work being performed and the type of roof structure available. Permanent roof anchors are most commonly used on new construction or when the entire roof structure is being replaced. The advantage of a permanent type of roof anchor is that it remains accessible for future maintenance of the roof after the initial project is complete. Temporary roof anchors can be installed and removed quickly and easily multiple times and are available for a wide array of roof structure types. Temporary roof anchors are commonly used for roof repair or maintenance activities where a preexisting permanent roof anchor doesn't exist.
  • B= Body Support. Full-body harnesses are available in different sizes. It's important to select a harness that fits the worker properly. You want the harness to be snug but not too tight and to have enough adjustment to accommodate multiple layers of clothing as the weather changes. You will have a choice of D-ring configurations, leg strap connections, and chest straps. For most residential roofing work, all you will need is a harness with a back D-ring for attachment of your fall arrest system. However, models are available with hip D-rings for work positioning/travel restriction applications and chest D-rings for personnel riding applications. Choosing between the various leg strap connections and chest strap options on a harness comes down to worker preferences. Most people prefer tongue buckle style leg straps and vest style (H style) harnesses for ease of donning and doffing.
  • C= Connector. A rope and rope grab are common connecting elements used in residential construction. Rope grabs provide freedom of movement around the work site and protection against falls from the roof. Virtually any length of rope is available for purchase, but common lengths are 25 feet and 50 feet. You want to use the shortest length of rope possible for your application. There are two types of rope grab devices on the market -- manual rope grabs and trailing rope grabs. Manual rope grabs are always in a locked position on the rope. They require the user to manually position the rope grab on the rope while moving around the work site. Trailing rope grabs will automatically move along the rope (in one direction) as a user moves around the site. While trailing rope grabs are more convenient to use, they do cost more than a manual rope grab.

Conclusion
This change will have a significant impact on residential housing work sites. OSHA expects further advances in the design technologies of fall protection equipment will be triggered by the demands of employers who may encounter compliance difficulties on particular sites.

OSHA has published a document explaining how to achieve compliance on a residential job site. "OSHA Guidance Document – Fall Protection in Residential Construction" can be found at www.osha.gov/doc/guidance.pdf. In addition, OSHA's website has a wide variety of educational and training materials to assist employers with compliance. A fact sheet is available at www.osha.gov/doc/fall_protection_factsheet.html.

References
1. "OSHA Fact Sheet: Fall Protection in Residential Construction," http://www.osha.gov/doc/fall_protection_factsheet.html, May 1, 2012
2. "Residential Fall Protection Program Update," www.osha.gov/doc/residential_fall_protection/ppt/slide6.html, Occupational Health & Safety Administration, May 1, 2012
3. "OSHA's Top 10 Most Cited Violations," Safety+Health, December 2011, p 44
4. "Residential Fall Protection Program Update," www.osha.gov/doc/residential_fall_protection/ppt/slide8.html, Occupational Health & Safety Administration, May 1, 2012
5. "OSHA Changes the Rules," March, 4, 2011, www.roofingcontractor.com/articles/87678-osha-changes-the-rules, May 2, 2012
6. "NAHB Urges OSHA to Extend Deadline for Fall Protection Rule Change," April, 28, 2012, http://nahbenews.com/nahbmmbl/issues/2011-05-09.html; May 2, 2012
7. "OSHA's Top 10 Most Cited Violations," Safety+Health, December 2011, p 44

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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