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OSHA announced a significant change in the level of fall protection required for residential construction workers, emphasizing the need to protect residential roofers. By withdrawing a 1995 special directive that allowed residential builders to bypass fall protection requirements, these same builders must now comply with OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(13).

Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, addressed the concerns, “Fatalities from falls are the number one cause of workplace deaths in construction. We cannot tolerate workers getting killed in residential construction when effective means are readily available to prevent those deaths. Almost every week, we see a worker killed from falling off a residential roof. We can stop these fatalities, and we must.”

According the announcement, construction and roofing companies have six months to comply with the new directive. The effective date is June 16, 2011. To assist companies in meeting the new requirements, OSHA has published a Residential Fall Protection page on its website.

Going forward residential construction employers will be expected to employ the following safeguards:

  • Employees working six (6) feet or more above lower levels must be protected by conventional fall protection methods listed in 1926.501(b)(13) ( i.e., guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems ) or alternative fall protection measures allowed by other provisions of 29 CFR 1926.501(b) for particular types of work.
  • An example of an alternative fall protection measure allowed under 1926.501(b) is the use of warning lines and safety monitoring systems during the performance of roofing work on low-sloped roofs. (4 in 12 pitch or less). (See 1926.501(b)(10)).
  • OSHA allows the use of an effective fall restraint system in lieu of a personal fall arrest system. To be effective, a fall restraint system must be rigged to prevent a worker from reaching a fall hazard and falling over the edge. A fall restraint system may consist of a full body harness or body belt that is connected to an anchor point at the center of a roof by a lanyard of a length that will not allow a worker to physically reach the edge of the roof.
  • When the employer can demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use required fall protection systems, a qualified person must develop a written site-specific fall protection plan in accordance with 1926.502(k) that, among other things, specifies the alternative fall protection methods that will be used to protect

Standard 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(13)

“Residential construction.” Each employee engaged in residential construction activities 6 feet (1.8 m) or more above lower levels shall be protected by guardrail systems, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system unless another provision in paragraph (b) of this section provides for an alternative fall protection measure. Exception: When the employer can demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use these systems, the employer shall develop and implement a fall protection plan which meets the requirements of paragraph (k) of 1926.502.

Note: There is a presumption that it is feasible and will not create a greater hazard to implement at least one of the above-listed fall protection systems. Accordingly, the employer has the burden of establishing that it is appropriate to implement a fall protection plan which complies with 1926.502(k) for a particular workplace situation, in lieu of implementing any of those systems.

Standard 29 CFR 1926.502(k)

“Fall protection plan.” This option is available only to employees engaged in leading edge work, precast concrete erection work, or residential construction work (See 1926.501(b)(2), (b)(12), and (b)(13)) who can demonstrate that it is infeasible or it creates a greater hazard to use conventional fall protection equipment. The fall protection plan must conform to the following provisions.

1926.502(k)(1) – The fall protection plan shall be prepared by a qualified person and developed specifically for the site where the leading edge work, precast concrete work, or residential construction work is being performed and the plan must be maintained up to date.

1926.502(k)(2) – Any changes to the fall protection plan shall be approved by a qualified person.

1926.502(k)(3) – A copy of the fall protection plan with all approved changes shall be maintained at the job site.

1926.502(k)(4) – The implementation of the fall protection plan shall be under the supervision of a competent person.

1926.502(k)(5) – The fall protection plan shall document the reasons why the use of conventional fall protection systems (guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, or safety nets systems) are infeasible or why their use would create a greater hazard.

1926.502(k)(6) – The fall protection plan shall include a written discussion of other measures that will be taken to reduce or eliminate the fall hazard for workers who cannot be provided with protection from the conventional fall protection systems. For example, the employer shall discuss the extent to which scaffolds, ladders, or vehicle mounted work platforms can be used to provide a safer working surface and thereby reduce the hazard of falling.

1926.502(k)(7) – The fall protection plan shall identify each location where conventional fall protection methods cannot be used. These locations shall then be classified as controlled access zones and the employer must comply with the criteria in paragraph (g) of this section.

1926.502(k)(8) – Where no other alternative measure has been implemented, the employer shall implement a safety monitoring system in conformance with 1926.502(h).

1926.502(k)(9) – The fall protection plan must include a statement which provides the name or other method of identification for each employee who is designated to work in controlled access zones. No other employees may enter controlled access zones.

1926.502(k)(10) – In the event an employee falls, or some other related, serious incident occurs, (e.g., a near miss) the employer shall investigate the circumstances of the fall or other incident to determine if the fall protection plan needs to be changed (e.g. new practices, procedures, or training) and shall implement those changes to prevent similar types of falls or incidents.

Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, OSHA says an average of 40 workers are killed each year, one-third of them Latino workers who comprise more than one-third of all construction employees.

If you are interested in reading the directive in its entirety, visit OSHA’s Compliance Guide for Residential Construction.