OSHA Rejects Arizona Residential Fall Protection Standard

OSHA-approved State Plans

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, originally established in 1970, establishes federal laws to protect private sector workers from workplace accidents and injuries. Under this law, states are allowed to operate OSHA-approved State Plans that meet or exceed federal OSHA standards. As OSHA describes it, the State Plans must be “at least as effective” as the federal OSHA program. States choosing to run their own program receive as much as 50% of their funding from the federal government. Arizona is one of the 21 states operating an OSHA-approved State Plan. [1]

OSHA’s Residential Construction Fall Protection Standard (29 CFR 1926, subpart M)

In 1994, OSHA revised their construction fall protection standard. One of the revisions requires any employee exposed to a fall hazard at a height of six feet (trigger point) or more, to be protected by conventional fall protection. To protect employees, an employer could use a guardrail, safety net, or a personal fall arrest system. [1]

Why was the standard revised?

According to OSHA, an estimated 115,000 injuries occur due to falls on the construction worksite. By establishing a trigger height of six feet, 68,000 of these falls would be potentially prevented. That means 59% of workers being injured as a result of a construction-related fall would be protected. [2]

Challenges to the Standard

In response to OSHA’s revision of the standard, specifically subpart M, the residential construction industry questioned the feasibility of subpart M. As a result, OSHA issued an interim fall protection procedure (STD 3.1) for residential construction employers. This procedure raised the trigger point for conventional fall protection to as high as 25 feet. [3]

Original Standard Applies

After performing an evaluation of STD 3.1, OSHA concluded there was no convincing evidence showing employers in residential construction would not be able to provide a safe and reasonable means of protecting employees from falls in accordance with subpart M. This meant the original trigger height of six feet was now the rule. [4]

Arizona’s Fall Protection Standard

In March of 2012, Arizona’s legislation signed a new bill, SB 1441, which required conventional fall protection in residential construction whenever an employee is working at a height of 15 feet or more, or when a roof slow is steeper than 7 inches to 12 inches. Additionally, this bill also created an exception for employers where implementation of conventional fall protection is no practical or creates a greater hazard. [4]

OSHA Rejects Arizona’s Fall Protection Standard

OSHA’s standard for fall protection in residential construction generally requires conventional fall protection any time employees are working at a height of six feet or greater. In contrast, Arizona’s state statute generally requires very limited, if any, fall protection for employees working between six and 15 feet. The Arizona statute includes a mandate for fall protection for heights above six feet, but in most situations, allows for that fall protection to be in the form of a fall protection plan only. [4]

OSHA’s Final Ruling

On February 6th, 2015, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, formally rejected the Arizona State Plan’s statute for fall protection in residential construction. As a result, the Arizona Department of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH) will revert to enforcing the federal standard 29 CFR part 1926, subpart M. This resets the trigger point for requiring conventional fall protection back to six feet for all employees in Arizona. [4]

Learn More

To learn more about fall protection in the construction industry, you can take OSHAcademy course 805 Fall Protection in Construction.

[1] Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA). State Plans: Office of State Programs. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/index.html on February 13th, 2015.

[2] OSHA. (1995). Congressional Testimonies: Archives. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=TESTIMONIES&p_id=76

[3] OSHA. (1999). Plain Language Revision of OSHA Instruction STD 3.1: Interim Fall Protection Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=DIRECTIVES&p_id=2288

[4] OSHA. (2015). Arizona State Plan for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=FEDERAL_REGISTER&p_id=24902