Since the early 1970s, the Occupational and Health Act (OSHA) has had a great impact on the workplace. The Standards, 29 CFR 1910 and 29 CFR 1926 which are targeted to general Industry and Construction respectively, are not exactly user friendly and confusion about the interpretation of the standards has been a problem. Fall protection has not been immune to this confusion and many issues have been raised.
This presentation is focused only on Federal OSHA 29 CFR 1910 General Industry Standards, Subpart D - Walking-Working Surfaces and Subpart I - Personal Protective Equipment; and 29 CFR 1926 Construction Standards, Subpart M - Fall Protection and Subpart X - Stairways and Ladders, plus the OSHA tools for interpretations. This presentation does not cover residential construction, aerial lifts and other fall protection issues. Your regulations will probably be different than those presented if you are operating under a State plan.
Where do we find the answers? Fortunately we have several sources of clarification, but it takes a little digging. The easiest tool to use is the Letter of Interpretation. As of December 2006, OSHA has issued 366 Letters of Interpretation on fall protection. Each of the sources will be reviewed following this introduction.
The second source is proposed rulemaking. In 1973, OSHA Proposed revisions pertaining to fall protection in Subparts D & I of the General Industry Standard, 29 CFR 1910. After going out for comment, etc., the proposed revision was withdrawn in 1976 because some of the provisions were already outdated. In 1990 a new, revised proposal was put forth. The same 1990 proposal was proposed again in 2003. These changes have not become part of the standard, but as long as they are proposed, they are available for use!
The other relatively simple method of finding answers is to ask. The OSHA Compliance phone number is 800-321-OSHA. Depending on your question, you may not receive a direct answer. You are not talking to OSHA directly, but to a gatekeeper. If the gatekeeper cannot answer your question to your satisfaction, they will contact OSHA and get the answer for you. It has been my experience that when the gatekeeper calls you back, in addition to the answer, you will receive the name and phone number of the OSHA Compliance Officer that provided the answer, but so far I have not been successful trying to reach that person.
First, Letters of Interpretation are the OSHA response to formally submitted questions asking for clarification. This is the system for Federal OSHA. If you are working with a State OSHA program, this presentation will give you general guidance, but not specifics. Find out from your State Regulatory Agency how their system works. Also, forget the myth that all state plans are as strict or stricter than Fed OSHA. Examples of this will be forthcoming as we discuss separate issues.