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OSHA Puts Residential Construction Contractors on Notice

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By Julie Ferguson

In December of 2010, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration introduced stronger worker safeguards to prevent falls in residential construction. Under the prior directive, some employers were able to bypass fall protection requirements. The new standards for residential construction were scheduled to go into effect on June 15, but earlier this month, OSHA announced a three-month phase in to allow employers time to gear up to meet compliance requirements. During the phase in, however, employers must be fully compliant with the old directive.

OSHA estimates that 1.6 million Americans are employed in the construction industry, half of which work in residential construction. Each year, roughly 38,000 construction injuries are reported. Fatalities from falls are the number one cause of death in construction, with an average of 40 workers killed each year as a result of falls from residential roofs. These are preventable deaths.

In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected a challenge to OSHA's directive by the National Roofing Contractors Association. The trade association was seeking to maintain a provision in an earlier directive that allowed certain residential construction employers to bypass some fall protection requirements. "With the issuance of the new directive, all residential construction employers must comply with 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1926.501(b)(13). Where residential builders can demonstrate that traditional fall protection is not feasible, 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(13) still allows for alternative means of providing protection."

OSHA says that the new directive interprets "residential construction" as construction work that satisfies both of the following elements:

The end-use of the structure being built must be as a home, i.e., a dwelling.

The structure being built must be constructed using traditional wood frame construction materials and methods. The limited use of structural steel in a predominantly wood-framed home, such as a steel I-beam to help support wood framing, does not disqualify a structure from being considered residential construction.

OSHA has provided a site that offers resources and training materials about the new directive: Residential Fall Protection.

Additional materials can be found at OSHA's Fall Protection - Construction page.

<i>Julie Ferguson is a marketing consultant for Lynch Ryan & Associates, a Massachusetts-based employer consulting firm. This column was reprinted with permission from the firm's blog, http://www.workerscompinsider.com</i>

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