What is the minimum height at which construction workers or employees (engaged in risky jobs at elevated levels) should take fall protection measures and/or use fall safety equipment? Honestly speaking, there is no simple and straightforward answer as the minimum height normally varies from one industry to another. It’d have been much easier for OSHA to frame and enforce fall safety stipulations if the altitude was identical across-the-board.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under US Dept. of Labor has specified the altitude level for different industries and tasks, above which workers will need to adhere to fall protection provisos. Nevertheless, onsite policies and contracts usually take into account rules and regulations that tend to severer than the statutory guidelines. This disparity makes it imperative for you to be in the know about the fall protection principles in your site, both general and specific.
A default minimum height has been predetermined separately for the construction sector and the ‘general industry’ as working out an explicit figure for each and every commercial segment would be a cumbersome task. Additionally, the minimal height condition could vary for the same industry from one location to another. Thus, this discrepancy makes the task of determining a distinct height for every industry more complicated.
Hence the need for setting a preselected height that will work for an entire set of industries.
- It is 4’ for General Industry
- The default height is 6’ for the construction sector
- The threshold level for marine terminals, dockyards and shipyards varies from 4’ to 5’ as per the setting
So, if an employee is working at a height or heights listed above or beyond that, the respective employer must provide some kind of fall protection equipment. Employers are mandatorily required to make available devices and equipment that would prevent the workers from falling or tripping over. These normally comprise safety harnesses, safety lanyards, anchor points, self-retracting lifelines (SRL), deadweight anchor, lifeline systems, and warning lines to name a few.
Minimum height rule: when it does not apply
There could be and there are particular occasions and situations when the minimum height rider may not hold as the risk of falling is always there. For instance, workers involved in hazardous tasks or handling dangerous machinery and/or equipment are constantly vulnerable to suffering a fall. The employer, consequently, needs to ensure that he or she has taken the relevant fall protection steps.
Exemptions to the fundamental rules
There are some exemptions to the fundamental requisites- the default heights-and majority of these apply to the construction segment. Since construction is an ongoing and progressive activity, the altitudes from where one could possibly fall keeps on changing. Hence, it’d be a complex and futile exercise to pinpoint such heights.
Owing to this aberration, a few exceptions have become prominent with passage of time.
Scaffolding is not mandatory if you’re working at a height of more than 10’ measured from the base of the scaffold frame as per Subpart L of the construction stipulations. Since most of the scaffolds tend to be taller than 6’ but much less than 10’, the exemption is taken care of. However, this exception does not apply to boom lifts. Whenever you’re holed inside a boom lift, you must be tethered to a safety lanyard.
The steel erection regulations outlined in Subpart R of the Construction safety rules are somewhat lax and confusing as well. The mainstay of the regulations is that any worker engaged in erecting a steel structure or component can do without fall protection gear up to a height of 15’ from the ground level. But the directives start getting complicated when connectors come into play
Ladders and staircases
OSHA maintains in subpart X that all staircases with four or more levels or run to over 30” above ground level must have a stair rail on every exposed edge or side. The minimum (fall protection) height for fixed ladders is 24’ beyond which a cage or a self-retracting lifeline must be provided.
Rebar assembly construction fall protection
Subpart M pertaining to rebar assembly construction mentions that horizontal or vertical movements along the vertical face (of rebar assemblies) do not necessitate fall protection. The foot and hand holds on the rebar assemblies furnish sufficient protection.
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Picture Credit: cegoh