Changes in Fall Protection for Residential Construction

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fall protection standard was passed in August 1994. At that time, the residential construction industry pressed for more lenient standards. An interim standard was passed in December 1995 that applies specifically to residential construction. OSHA defines residential construction based on the building materials used. If a project meets the criteria, then less stringent standards apply.

Because residential construction has more lenient safety requirements, there are several safety concerns in the residential construction industry. Some of the issues stem from a lack of education regarding safety options and potential hazards. Another issue is younger workers who tend to downplay the risks associated with the industry. This is particularly dangerous with regard to fall protection.

In 2009, 35% of all construction fatalities were from falls. Of that number, 43% were in residential construction. A key problem with residential construction fall protection is caused by the industry getting its wish for less stringent fall standards. The less stringent standards allow a construction employer to deem conventional fall protection devices (guard rails, safety nets, and personal fall-arrest systems) “infeasible.” If that is the case, the allowed alternatives may include slide guards or other workers acting as safety monitors who would alert other workers of potential hazards.


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