OSHA may not be the best friend a contractor ever had, but in the world of construction safety, it is definitely the 800-pound Gorilla. And as they say, it's better to be friendly with the beast than eaten by it.
OSHA the Occupational Safety and Health Administration publishes manifold rules and regulations covering issues of importance to contractors, masons and laborers. Many, if not all, states use these rules in formulating their own regulations. However, state regulations can be different usually more stringent, often with heavier penalties than the federal rules. Contractors working across state lines must be careful to check the regulations under which their crews will be working. Don't assume anything: Check, double check, verify, and check it again.
Why fall prevention rules? Obviously, people get injured on the job when they fall from scaffolds, roofs, ladders, parapets, walls, vehicles, and any other elevated platform on which they may work. And these falls are not, as many journeymen might wish, confined to new workers with limited experience.
On September 2, 1993 a 38-year old journeyman mason was killed when a scaffold collapsed and dropped him and a co-worker 85 feet to the ground. Three men were working side by side, on the same side of the tower of a climbing scaffold, from different sections of outrigger platforms. The victim was working on the outermost platform section.
They cut and removed an approximately 800 pound piece of stone from the parapet facade and placed it on the victim's platform. About two minutes later, one of the cantilevered outriggers beneath the victim's platform failed, and the platform collapsed. The adjacent platform, on which one of the co-workers was standing, partially collapsed. The two men on these platforms fell 85 feet to the packed dirt ground. The third worker jumped unharmed over the parapet onto the building's roof.
The investigation showed the rental scaffold was at fault: it had been improperly welded after one of the outriggers had cracked. The accident, in Massachusetts, caused a flurry of rule and regulation proposals including one on fall arrest systems to be used by those working on mobile platforms.
The proposal read: "Employers should consider having employees use personal fall arrest systems while on mobile platforms to protect them in the event of a work surface failure. Although construction employees are not required to use personal fall arrest systems when they work on mobile platforms, employers should consider implementing this supplemental safety precaution to provide the maximum fall protection.
"OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.104 provides the specific criteria that must be met when personal fall arrest systems are used. (After February 1995, these requirements were expanded and moved to section 1926.502(d) editor.) Wearing a safety harness and lifeline tied off to an independent anchorage point could mean the difference between life and death in the event of a work surface failure."
But were they right? Would fall arrest gear have saved this mason's life? The argument could be made that no harness or other system would have prevented the accident the poor condition of the scaffold wouldn't have improved by a safety harness on the workers. But would it have given the mason a better chance to survive that accident?
As far back as November 25, 1986, OSHA proposed to revise the fall protection standard. The rulemaking record, developed over a nine-year period, resulted in a more performance-oriented rule, issued on August 9, 1994 and published in volume 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 1926, subpart M, and in volume 59 of the Federal Register. You can view the rule on OSHA's Website at www.osha.gov.
In general, the rule requires that an employee exposed to a fall hazard of six feet or more must be protected by equipment that prevents or arrests the fall. Subsequently, some employers claimed that parts of the rule were not appropriate for their operations.
The residential, pre-cast concrete, and post-frame construction industries stated that different fall protection provisions are needed for their activities. Reinforcing steel (rebar construction) employers requested that workers who climb rebar walls and assemblies be permitted to climb without fall protection and only be required to tie off upon reaching their work location.
Also, some people familiar with safety harnesses, restraint systems and positioning devices raised concerns regarding the standard's performance criteria for fall protection systems.
In response to issues about the rule raised by the residential construction industry, on December 8, 1995, OSHA issued interim fall protection procedures for residential construction employers OSHA Instruction STD 3.1 that differed from those in the 1994 ruling. On June 18, 1999, OSHA issued a plain language re-write entitled STD 3.1A and stated that it would undertake further rulemaking to address these fall protection issues.
OSHA emphasized that the extensive rulemaking process completed in 1994 established that the fall protection requirements in the rule are reasonably necessary and appropriate to protect employees from the significant risks of fall hazards. Providing such protection was demonstrated to be both technologically and economically feasible.
However, STD 3-0.1A permits employers to use specified work practices instead of conventional fall protection systems or devices that physically prevent a worker from falling or arrest a worker's fall. These can be used for foundation work, some installation work on roofs and in attics, and some residential roofing work. Masonry work has even more rules, as we'll see.
Section 1926.501(b)(13) contains the fall protection requirements for residential construction. It states that each employee engaged in residential construction activities more than 6 feet (1.8m) above lower levels shall be protected by guardrail systems, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system unless another provision in paragraph (b) of the 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 that meets the requirements of paragraph (k) of Sec. 1926.502.
Sounds like a lot of government gobbledygook, right? Like doing your taxes, all the subsections, cross references, and parenthetical numbers blur the issue. But since the issue is worker safety, you must take time to translate these rules into best practices.
When publishing this standard, OSHA acknowledged that some employers in the construction industry might have difficulty providing conventional fall protection for certain operations. The rule states that conventional fall protection in construction is presumed to be feasible.
However, where the contractor can show that conventional fall protection is infeasible at a particular worksite, the contractor may implement a written "alternative fall protection plan." The plan must be in writing, designed for the particular work site, and specify alternative measures that are as protective as possible.
But masons are special!
Let's take a look at the OSHA regulations for masonry scaffolding and put this in perspective.
"Masons' adjustable supported scaffold" is the term that OSHA uses so employers who used "self-contained adjustable scaffolds" in masonry operations would have a clear reference point in the revised Subpart L.
"Masons' multi-point adjustable suspension scaffold" was another term that was adopted. The term means a two-point or multi-point adjustable suspension scaffold designed and used for masonry operations.
One group suggested OSHA adopt the definition for this term from ANSI A10.8-1977, which contains the language "continuous platform." However, OSHA intended to not limit this type of scaffold to a single "continuous platform." All types of multi-point suspension scaffolds covered by Subpart L may consist of more than one platform multi-point scaffolds are not limited by the number of suspension wires, platforms, or the location or attachment of the suspension wires to the platform or platforms.
Additionally the definition suggested did not include the words "masonry operations." OSHA included the words "masonry operations" in this definition so it applies specifically to such scaffolds used in the masonry trade.
Step right this way
Originally, Section 1926.451(a)(4) required guardrails on all open sides and ends of a scaffold platform, but it didn't specify how far away a scaffold platform may be from a building before the side facing the building is considered to be an "open side." OSHA's existing scaffold rule has often been interpreted to mean that no open space is allowed. However, zero clearance during all phases of construction is not feasible.
A 14-inch limit was proposed in paragraph (b)(4) recognizing that during construction, the face of the wall being built often moves out toward the scaffold. There must be sufficient space at the beginning of work to allow for the installation of masonry units, ledges, facings and other architectural or structural additions. The spacing must be allowed for from the start, because it is not practical to move large scaffolds away from the wall as construction progresses outward.
When the initial set back distance must be more than 14 inches, the platform can often still be kept within 14 inches of the building by the use of side brackets or extensions on supported scaffolds, and by angulated roping, static lines, or equivalent means on suspension scaffolds.
While on the subject of scaffolds, paragraph (b)(9) provides that wood platforms shall not be covered with opaque finishes, except that platform edges may be covered or marked for purposes of identification. This paragraph is intended to ensure that structural defects in platforms are not covered from view by the use of an opaque coating or finish. Hairline cracks can significantly reduce the strength of a wood member, so early detection of structural defects is important. Opaque finishes can cover such cracks and make them difficult to discover. The edges of platform units are exceptions to this rule to allow identification marks, grading marks, or other similar type of marks to be placed on the unit edges.
Guidelines and policies
All contractors, large and small, need to have written policy and procedure manuals for their workers. Not only does this provide a place for reference to safety rules so all can abide by them, it protects the contractor from many liability issues. "Rules is rules" may be the rule, but if you don't tell your crews what the rules are, how can they follow them?
Here are some guidelines that might make up sections of your company safety manual. They are offered as a starting point, not an ending point. They specify alternative procedures for protecting employees.
These procedures are:
Trained Workers Only. Only trained workers shall be allowed to work on the top of the foundation wall, and only as necessary to complete the construction of the wall.
Adequate Support. All formwork shall be adequately supported before any worker may work on top.
Bad Weather. When adverse weather (such as high winds, rain, snow or sleet) creates a hazardous condition, operations shall be suspended until the hazardous condition no longer exists. No one should be allowed on scaffolding covered with ice except for the purpose of removing the ice.
Staging of Materials/Equipment. Materials and equipment for the work shall be conveniently located to the workers. Reaching over or under the edges is prohibited without adequate fall arrest or protection systems in place.
Impalement Hazards. Materials and other objects which could pose impalement hazards shall be kept out of the area below where workers are working or shall be properly guarded. Ends of all protruding metal, lumber or plastic must be guarded. Mushroom caps are suitable for anchor bolts, rebars, and other objects located on the same surface as the workers. If workers are on an upper level above the protruding materials, mushroom caps are inadequate protection and 2x lumber must be used to cover all protruding objects.
Whenever a masonry wall is being constructed, a Limited Access Zone and a Controlled Access Zone shall be established prior to the start of construction. Limited Access Zone means an area along the unscaffolded side of the wall, which must be barricaded to limit access. The builder's competent person and the mason contractor's competent person must ensure that the Limited Access Zone is clearly marked and controlled by the mason contractor.
The Limited Access Zone (LAZ) must meet the following requirements:
- Entry shall be restricted to the mason contractor's employees (or subcontractor's employees) who are actively constructing the masonry wall.
- It must be protected either through warning tapes, ropes, wires or chains. The entryway must have a warning sign posted.
- It must be equal to the height of the wall plus four feet (1.2m) and must run the entire length of the wall.
- It shall remain in place until the wall is adequately supported to prevent overturning and to prevent collapse.
- When the height of the wall is more than eight feet (2.4 m), it must be adequately braced. The bracing shall remain in place until permanent supporting elements of the structure are in place.
The Controlled Access Zone (CAZ) is the area in which work such as overhand bricklaying may take place without the use of guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, or safety net systems and access to the zone is controlled by OSHA Subpart M, Fall Protection 1926.500 (b) Definitions.
Overhand bricklaying means the process of laying bricks and masonry units such that the surface of the wall to be jointed is on the opposite side of the wall from the mason, requiring the mason to lean over the wall to complete the work. Related work includes mason tending and electrical installation incorporated into the brick wall during the overhand bricklaying process.
If workers must reach more than 10 inches below the level of the walking and/or working surface, the worker shall be protected from falling by use of a guardrail system, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system.
This applies particularly to laborers handling incoming material who work at the leading edge of the scaffold. When the gates open, there best be some fall protection in place. While masons have a natural aversion to wearing harness-style fall arrest systems, laborers, who often are working much closer to the "fall zone" can and should be protected with these systems.
When the CAZ is used to control access to areas where overhead brick laying and related work are taking place, it shall be defined by a control line erected not less than 10 feet (3m) nor more than 15 feet (4.6m) from the working edge. The control line shall extend for a distance sufficient for the CAZ to enclose all employees performing overhand bricklaying and related work and shall be approximately parallel to the working edge. Only employees engaged in overhand bricklaying or related work shall be permitted in the CAZ.
On floors and roofs where guardrail systems are not in place prior to the beginning of overhead bricklaying operations, controlled access zones shall be enlarged, as necessary, to enclose all points or access, material handling areas, and storage areas. On roofs and floors where guardrails systems are in place, but need to be removed to allow overhead bricklaying work or leading edge work to take place, only that portion of the guardrail necessary to accomplish that day's work shall be removed.
There are never final words in the quest for safety. It's a constant challenge to meet the changes in technologies and techniques in construction. OSHA modifies its rules to consider these changes and it usually does so after many years of discussion, rule publishing, and exception consideration.
You may not like them, you may challenge them in court, but until they change, you better follow the rules. And make sure all your crews know and follow them, too.
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