eLCOSH : Fall Protection: Misconceptions & Myths; Working Within

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    Worker SafetyWorker Safety

    IS 6 FT FROM AN UNPROTECTED EDGE ade-quate clearance to meet the federal OSHA require-ments for employee fall protection safety? This mythand several other common misconceptions are thesubject of this article.

    Since its inception, OSHA has had a profoundinfluence on the workplace, especially through the 29 CFR 1910 (general industry) and 29 CFR 1926 (con-struction) regulations. As with most rules promoting achange of conduct, confusion exists regarding theinterpretation of these rules and questions about fallprotection are among them. This confusion is evi-denced by the issuance of more than 365 letters ofinterpretation by OSHA for fall protection alone inresponse to questions seeking clarification.

    Over the years, many managers, workers andSH&E professionals have become self-interpret-ers, reaching conclusions that do not conform toeither the standards or the published interpretations.Consequently, several myths have become prevalentand convenient standards of conduct despite the factthat they are erroneous, do not provide properworker protection and are citable.

    Because of these myths, some may conclude thatmany SH&E professionals are either not aware of ordo not consider the letters of interpretation or pro-

    posed rulemaking standardsissued by OSHA. Both of thesetools are approved by OSHAfor the development of proce-dures and enforcement ofwork rules, providing the bestinformation available forworker safety.

    Several myths and/or mis-conceptions have been prom-ulgated to the point that theyhave become accepted facts, atleast until an incident occursand OSHA becomes involved.The initial question in this arti-cle is one such myth. It is a

    common misconception thatthe worker is safe and incompliance as long as a dis-tance of 6 ft is maintainedfrom an unprotected edge.However, no such carteblanche rule exists and neverhas in the OSHA regulations.

    To examine some of thecommon myths and miscon-ceptions, this article focuseson OSHA 29 CFR 1910Subpart D, Walking-WorkingSurfaces, and Subpart I, PPE;29 CFR 1926 Subpart M, Fall Protection and SubpartX, Stairways and Ladders; and the letters of interpre-tation and proposed rulemaking concerning fall pro-tection. Steel erection, residential construction, aeriallifts and other fall protection issues are not covered.Compliance issues may be different than those pre-sented if operations are being conducted under astate plan. Another myth is the generally stated beliefthat a state plan is as stringent or more stringent thanfederal OSHA. Comparison may prove otherwise.

    Letters of Interpretation& Proposed Rulemaking

    Many SH&E professionals are aware of thesetools and diligently use them, yet most people out-side of the profession are not aware of these tools.Both are readily accessible on OSHAs website(www.osha.gov). On the right-hand side of the site,under Laws & Regulations, visitors will see links toboth standards and interpretations.

    A search in the interpretations section using theterm fall protection returns 369 results. This informa-tion can be sorted by relevance or title. Sorting by titleworks best because the date is always first in the titleand this provides a chronological reference. When anew letter is published, the search is simplified bygoing to the most recently dated letter. Each letterincludes a disclaimer explaining that the letter is how

    Richard J. Epp, P.E., CSP, is a safety and fallprotection specialist working as a private

    consultant with Savvy Safety Solutions Inc. Healso is associated with Boretti Inc., a safetyconsulting firm. Epp recently retired from

    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, wherehe was an industrial safety engineer and fall

    protection subject-matter expert. He holds anundergraduate degree in mechanical

    engineering from the University of Wyomingand is a professional member and pastpresident of the San Francisco Chapter.

    A former member of the ANSI Z359 Committee,Epp was a presenter at ASSEs Safety 2006

    and Safety 2007 conferences.

    26 PROFESSIONAL SAFETY SEPTEMBER 2007 www.asse.org

    Fall ProtectionMisconceptions

    & MythsWorking within the OSHA system

    By Richard J. Epp

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  • www.asse.org SEPTEMBER 2007 PROFESSIONAL SAFETY 27

    and maintenance. Part 1926 cov-ers construction, which includesalteration, modification, roof-ing, painting and demolition.The category of work underwhich the task falls must bedetermined to properly applythe standards. For example, ifthe standardincluding inter-pretation letters and proposedrulemakingcites a Part 1926control, the assumption cannotbe made that it is acceptable touse for maintenance, which fallsunder Part 1910.

    For example, 29 CFR1910.23(c) states, Every open-sided floor or platform 4 ftabove adjacent floor or groundlevel shall be guarded by astandard railing on all opensides except where there isentrance to a ramp, stairway orfixed ladder. Thats it. Thestandard authorizes a guard-rail but nothing else.

    However, in 1976, OSHApublished a proposed revisionto Part 1910, Subparts D and I,allowing the use of alternate fallprotection, which would in-clude the use of personal fallprotection, with the caveat wherethe use of guardrails is not feasible.In April 1990, OSHA repub-

    lished the proposed Part 1910 rulemaking (reissued inMay 2003) that defines acceptable general industry fallprotection to include personal fall arrest systems(PFAS), work positioning systems, travel restrictingsystems (fall restraint), fixed ladder climbing systems,hole covers, safety nets and a new proposed desig-nated area category.

    With changes such as this, the gap between thegeneral industry and construction standards is clos-ing, but differences remain. Some differences are veryobvious, such as the basic difference in the triggerheight that requires fall protection. The generalindustry standard states that fall protection becomesan issue when the walking/working surface isabove 4 ft, while the construction standard uses 6 ftof height as the unprotected limit.

    Myth: Six-Foot RuleThis myth involves the so-called 6-ft rule or two-

    step rule where distance alone is the protection.OSHA has never viewed as compliant the practice ofremaining at least 6 ft away from the edge. The pre-amble to 29 CFR 1926, Subpart M, states the premisethat OSHA has determined that there is no safe dis-tance from an unprotected side or edge that wouldrender fall protection unnecessary.

    That interpretation was the rule until July 23,1996, when a letter of interpretation was written that

    this particular issue is to be interpreted. OSHA canand does use the letters of interpretation to, in effect,make new regulations, as well as to reinforce or relaxprovisions of the standards.

    Another term with which SH&E practitionersshould be familiar is de minimis. By definition, deminimis conditions are violations of standards thatfor whatever reason do not at the time of inspectionhave an immediate relationship to safety and healthand therefore are not included in a citation. Thisbecomes an effective tool when introducing devia-tions from published standards.

    Proposed rulemaking also is easy to access on theOSHA website. It is found in the Federal Registerssection, which is located in the Laws & Regulationsarea. For fall protection, the proposed rulemaking ofconcern proposed for 29 CFR 1910 Subparts D and Ioriginated in the 1980s, was republished for commentin 1990 and resubmitted for comment in 2003. Thenew interpretations and tools contained in this docu-ment are well worth the search. This will become evi-dent as the myths and misconceptions are explored.

    Common Misconceptions & MythsMisconception: 29 CFR 1910 & 29 CFR 1926Rules Are Interchangeable

    This misconception is common. Part 1910 coversgeneral industry, which basically includes operations

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  • The designated area criteria consists of:roof slope 4:12 [10 degrees or less (a low-slope

    roof)];constructed with ropes, wires or chains of 500-lb

    tensile strength (no barrier tape);horizontal members within the dimensions of

    34 in. to 39 in.;must withstand a horizontal force of 16 lb, 30 in.

    above the base;complies with the provisions of proposed rule-

    making 29 CFR 1910.28(d);Several conditions differ from the warning line

    criteria stated in 29 CFR 1926.502(f)(2) as well: work must be of a temporary nature;is to be erected as close to the work area as per-

    mitted by the task;perimeter to be no less than 6 ft from an unpro-

    tected edge;access to designated area by a clear path formed

    by two lines, same criteria for lines and stanchions asin the basic standard.

    This is one of several choices, rather than requir-ing just the guardrail as originally stipulated in thestandards. Other systems available are PFAS, fallrestraint and safety net systems. While outside thescope of this article, some times the most effectivealternative is scaffolding. A scaffold stairway is costeffective when tools and materials are required for ajob. Photos 1 and 2 show an effective combination ofa designated area and scaffold stairs which took lessthat 2 hours to erect.

    Construction ExemptionOne other type of activity bears mention as well.

    29 CFR 1926, Subpart M, includes a fall protectionexception [29 CFR 1926.500(a)(1)]: The provisions ofthis subpart do not apply when employees are mak-ing an inspection, investigation or assessment ofworkplace conditions prior to the actual start of con-struction work or after all construction work has beencompleted. This exception is not activity-specific, butit specifically states construction work;