The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was scheduled to start enforcing its directive, Compliance Guidance for Residential Construction, on June 16. That guidance includes a provision—CFR 1926.501(b)(13) to be exact—that spells out new guidelines for fall protection on the job site. The NAHB had been strongly urging OSHA to enforce its latest guidance immediately. But in a June 8 letter to the trade group’s assistant vice president, Rob Matuga, OSHA stated its intention to phase in the directive through September 15, in order to give employers a chance to come into compliance and provide their workers with safer job environments.

Last Friday, OSHA spokesperson Kimberly Tucker answered questions from Builder about that decision and how OSHA would monitor jobsite compliance.

Builder: During the phase-in period, OSHA has indicated that its field staff will focus on helping employers come into compliance with the new regulations and directive. How will monitoring of employers’ compliance proceed over the next three months: for example, will OSHA be conducting spot checks of job sites, or will it use some other procedures? And does OSHA have sufficient field staff to be able to monitor the construction?

Tucker: OSHA’s federal inspectors will continue to schedule and conduct our inspections just as we always have. The agency is not planning a special inspection emphasis during the phase-in period. Together with OSHA’s state plan partners, there are approximately 2,500 safety and health inspectors. Approximately half are Federal OSHA personnel and the other half state personnel.

During the three-month enforcement phase-in period, if the employer is in full compliance with the old directive (STD 03-00-001), OSHA will not issue citations, but will instead issue a hazard alert letter informing the employer of the feasible methods they can use to comply with OSHA’s fall protection standard or implement a written fall protection plan. If the employer's practices do not meet the requirements set in the old directive, OSHA will issue appropriate citations.

If an employer fails to implement the fall protection measures outlined in a hazard alert letter and if during a subsequent inspection of one of the employer’s workplaces OSHA finds violations involving the same hazards, the area office shall issue appropriate citations.

Why not immediate enforcement?

Assistant Secretary [David] Michaels explained the rationale, stating: “We want to make sure that the residential construction industry has every opportunity to successfully come into compliance with the new directive. I am confident that this phase-in period will provide employers the additional time and flexibility they need to alter their work practices in accordance with the requirements of the new directive."

Has OSHA compiled any statistics about what percentage of the construction industry is currently out of compliance, and whether noncompliance is more prevalent in residential or commercial construction?

Falls in construction continue to be the leading cause of death in the construction industry.  Each year, OSHA conducts approximately 20,000 construction inspections and, according to our inspection data, five of the 10 most cited standards are related to falls.

The revised rules have come under criticism because they reportedly do not distinguish between different types of falls. Can you comment on this and whether OSHA intends to address and refine the regulations to take into account the different causes of falls?

The various types of fall hazards in residential construction are addressed by the requirements in 1926.501. In addition, there are several standards that address specific types of fall hazards at a residential construction site. Some examples include bricklaying, excavations, formwork, holes, leading edge, wall opening, ladder use, and scaffolding. 

OSHA believes compliance with these requirements adequately addresses fall hazards and there are no plans to revise these regulations.

John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.