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Fall Protection in Construction: A Peek at the Organization of 1926.500-503

By Kevin B. Denis, Contributor

Falls continue to rank as one of the leading causes of fatalities and injuries in the construction industry.

Among the many hazards that construction workers face, falls consistently rank as one of the leading causes of fatalities and injuries. Recognizing this, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established requirements to mitigate the risks associated with falls. Central to this effort are the regulations outlined in 1926.500-503, Subpart M, which address fall protection in the construction industry.

Understanding how Subpart M is organized can assist safety professionals in selecting the right fall protection according to the application, not only to achieve compliance but to select the right solution for the task. Subpart M is organized in four parts, 1926.500 through 1926.503. Each section has a purpose and requirements.

1926.500: Scope, Application, and Definitions

1926.500 sets forth the scope, application, and key definitions essential for understanding subsequent regulations. This section delineates the industries and activities to which fall protection standards apply and provides direction to other vertical subparts (i.e., scaffolding, cranes, steel erection, etc.). Furthermore, it provides definitions such as “anchorages” and “personal fall arrest systems,” establishing a common language essential for compliance and communication on construction sites.

1926.501: Duty to Have Fall Protection

1926.501 is known as the employers’ “duty to provide,” which mandates where and at what height employers must provide fall protection. This section describes 15 areas, common in construction, where fall hazards exist and what the employers’ obligations are to provide protection. The sections in 1926.501 provide the height at which fall protection is required and what fall protection options can be used.

It is within these sections that the six-foot trigger height is found along with what fall protection options OSHA wants to see. For example, 1926.501(b)(1) describes an employer’s duty to provide fall protection for unprotected sides and edges that are six feet above a lower level. This section goes on to detail that guardrails, safety nets, or personal fall arrest systems are acceptable protective measures. This section is an important one for safety professionals.

Properly understanding 1926.500-503 equips safety professionals to mitigate the risks associated with falls.

1926.502: Fall Protection Systems Criteria and Practices

Complementing 1926.501, 1926.502 lays out the criteria for fall protection options described in 1926.501. An employer can look at 501 to find out what their duty is and pick from the fall protection options. 502 provides the criteria each of the fall protection methods must meet. For example, if an employer selected guardrails to protect an unprotected edge, 1926.502(b) provides the guardrail requirements. It is in 1926.502 that guardrail heights, strengths, fall distances, anchorage strength, arresting forces, and several other design and specification requirements are found.

There are 10 different sections in 1926.502 that include system requirements for guardrails, safety nets, personal fall arrest systems, positioning device systems, warning lines, controlled access zones, safety monitors, covers, falling objects, and fall protection plans.

1926.503: Training Requirements

Active fall protection systems only work if they are rigged and used correctly, which is why 1926.503 mandates training for workers exposed to fall hazards. This regulation requires training for all employees who might be exposed to fall hazards and that training must include the nature of the fall hazard(s) and the correct procedures for erecting, maintaining, inspecting, and dismantling the fall protection system used. This section also provides direction for documentation and when retraining is required. Retraining is required if changes occur that render previous training obsolete or if inadequacies in an employee’s knowledge or skill are discovered.

In the landscape of construction, gravity remains a constant and fall hazards occur at every stage in the construction process. Understanding 1926.500-503, safety professionals can work to mitigate the risks associated with falls.

Kevin B. Denis is the Fall Protection Technical Service Manager, Werner Co. (wernerco.com).

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