In an effort to reduce the number of falls in residential construction projects, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) will soon begin its enforcement measures stemming from its latest residential fall protection directive (STD 03-11-002). Under this new directive, employers are required to provide roofers and construction workers with fall protection equipment whenever work is performed six feet or higher above the ground.

The new directive will become effective on September 15, 2012.

It allows workers to use a number of safety measures, including personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), guardrails, and rope grabs to guard against potential falls. Employers are also required to develop written fall protection plans that meet the requirements of paragraph (k) of 1926.502 when they do not actively provide safety equipment. Such plans must be site-specific and utilize safe work practices that eliminate or reduce the possibility of a fall.

Directive STD 03-11-002 was originally scheduled to take effect on June 16, 2011. However, the building industry asked OSHA to extend the effective date so that builders and contractors could understand the new requirements and take appropriate steps to become compliant. In response, OSHA temporarily relaxed its enforcement policies and gave contractors additional time to make changes. For example, employers were given 30 days from the date of a particular violation to become compliant. Also, no repeat citations (or additional penalties) would be levied, unless a serious injury or catastrophe occurred.

OSHA encouraged their Compliance Assistance Specialists to help builders and their contractors understand and adjust to the new directive. A number of outreach sessions have been conducted to help employers comply with the new rules.

These new safety rules are critically important even in light of the numbers regarding construction accidents. Last year fall protection was ranked as the most-cited residential construction violation with 2,979 citations issued. Also, falls are still the leading cause of deaths and serious injuries in the construction industry. They commonly occur as a result of unprotected roof edges, improperly constructed scaffolding as well as unsafe portable ladders. When these protections are not used (or used incorrectly) the risk of serious injuries increases dramatically. With the recent positive forecast for the housing industry, more building is expected, and officials are intent on making sure workplace safety rules are followed.

If you have questions about how the new rules affect you, or need assistance on creating compliant fall protection plans, an experienced attorney can assist you.