An OSHA compliance directive requiring contractors performing residential construction comply with the residential fall protection standard will take effect as scheduled on June 16, 2011. The Standard (29 C.F.R. § 1926.501(b)(13), Duty to Have Fall Protection) generally requires that guardrails, safety nets or personal fall arrest systems be used on residential jobsites that are more than six feet off the ground.

Adopted in 1994, the Standard requires guardrails, safety nets or personal fall arrest systems in residential construction. It contained the following exception, “When the employer can demonstrate that it is infeasible or creates a greater hazard to use these systems, the employer shall develop and implement a fall protection plan which meets [certain] requirements….”  The employer bears the “burden of establishing that it is appropriate to implement a fall protection plan which complies with [the Standard] for a particular workplace situation, in lieu of implementing any of those systems.”

In June 1999, OSHA issued Directive STD 03-00-001, instructing OSHA officials not to commence enforcement of the Standard against an employer if the employer used slide guards or other fall-protection systems that were included in the 1999 Directive.  In 2010, however, the Secretary issued Directive STD 03-11-002, rescinding the 1999 Directive and authorizing enforcement of the Standard as written.

In National Roofing Contractors Ass’n v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, No. 11-1340 (7th Cir. Apr. 7, 2011), rejecting a challenge seeking to enjoin implementation of the 2010 Directive, the federal appeals court in Chicago ruled the 2010 Directive was an exercise of the DOL’s prosecutorial discretion, rather than an “occupational safety and health standard.”  Therefore, contrary to the plaintiffs’ argument, the 2010 Directive is not subject to judicial review pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 655(f). Thus, the Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ petition for review and stay of enforcement of the Standard.

Employers take note.  For those that choose one or more “alternate fall protection measures,”  ensure such measures meet or exceed the OSHA’s fall protection standard and reflect that in your fall protection programs. Furthermore, be prepared to explain to compliance officers how you came to the decision to implement the alternative measures.

A special thanks to Mei Fung So, who assisted in the preparation of this post.