Currently, OSHA requires that employers provide fall protection for construction workers on a walking or working surface with an unprotected edge that is 6 feet or more above a lower level. Fall protection approved by OSHA includes guardrails, safety net systems, and personal fall arrest systems (i.e. safety harnesses). Employers are permitted to use any or all of the three prescribed fall protection systems in most instances, not specifically safety harnesses as Gilbane recommends.
The rule covers a number of areas and activities where fall protection is required and the fall protection systems allowed. For example, protecting workers from falls into holes, such as skylights, another acceptable means of fall protection is installing a cover over the opening. When working on the face of reinforcing steel or formwork above 6 feet, employees can use a personal fall arrest system, safety net, or positioning device system.
The rules are also different when it comes to working on scaffolding and for steelworkers. For scaffold work, employees must have fall protection when working at a height of 10 feet or more above a lower level. The type of fall protection required by OSHA varies depending on the type of scaffold being used. A ladder jack scaffold or a float scaffold requires a personal fall arrest system (aka: safety harness) while a single-point or two-point adjustable suspension scaffold requires both a safety harness and a guardrail system.
Workers performing steel erection work aren’t required to use fall protection until they are working at heights of 15 feet or more above a lower level. Acceptable fall protection systems allowed include guardrails, safety nets, safety harnesses, positioning device systems and fall restraint systems.
OSHA has not responded to Gilbane’s safety harness proposal and doesn’t have any proposed rulemaking currently to make any changes to their fall protection standards. OSHA’s reasoning for having different height thresholds for fall protection for different aspects of construction such as scaffold work and steel erection was cited as being in line with consensus standards at the time and with the difficulty for deploying fall protection at the 6-foot threshold for these activities.