“OSHA” Rescinds Interim Fall Protection Standard for Residential Construction – Is this too little too late?

Effective June 16, 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) makes fall protection requirements in residential construction more stringent than they have been for the last 15 years. This recent action by the agency makes me wonder if this is too little too late. For all the residential construction workers that have been severely injured or have died on the job-site due to lack of fall protection, I say it clearly is too late for their protection. Yet, the question remains whether the more strict standard will assist in saving lives on the job-site.

Understanding that the leading cause of injury and death in the residential construction industry occurs from falls from elevation on the work site, greater protection and stiffer penalties for employers that do not enforce OSHA’s requirements is in order. Employer/builders do have an interest to get the job done and frequently receive a monetary incentive to complete the task on time or even early. Does requiring fall protection on the job-site require additional time to get a job completed? It most certainly does take time and expense that would not be present absent the fall protection requirement. Be that as it may, the person severely injured, or that person who has lost a loved-one on the job-site due to a fall, most likely would respond that the existing standard may just not be adequate enough.

While employers in the industry have enjoyed a relaxed standard since 1995, the agency has announced that, effective June 16, 2011, the new policy will require employers engaged in residential construction to comply with 29 CFR 1926.501 (b) (13) in full effect. Hence, workers engaged in residential construction six (6) feet or more above lower levels must be protected by conventional fall protection (i.e., personal fall arrest systems, safety nets, or guardrails ) or other approved methods set forth in 1926.501(b). In the event that an employer can demonstrate that such fall protection is “infeasible” or puts the workers at “greater risk” given the nature of the project, then, and only then, can the employer institute a written alternative site-specific fall protection plan that complies with the agency regulations. Employer/builders may be surprised by the heavier burden on their business, however, they were placed on notice even back in the mid-90’s that this “interim” relaxed standard was just that, temporary. While “temporary” did not come soon enough for those who died or were severely injured on the job site due to lack of fall protection measures, it is a start toward effectuating the full policy considerations and protections of OSHA. For more information on how to safely protect yourself in the workplace go to www.osha.gov.

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