OSHA has announced that it will give employers in residential construction an additional three months to come into compliance with its new fall protection directive.  OSHA published the new directive on December 16, 2010 and originally gave employers until June 16, 2011 to ensure their fall protection practices were compliant.  The three month extension, according to OSHA Assistant Secretary Michaels, will give employers "the additional time and flexibility they need to alter their work practices in accordance with the requirements of the new directive."

The crux of the new directive is OSHA’s revised position regarding the use of alternative fall protection measures when conventional fall protection in residential construction is deemed to be infeasible or would create a greater hazard.  Until the new directive was issued, employers in residential construction could utilize certain specified alternative procedures instead of conventional fall protection, without a prior showing of infeasibility or greater hazard and without developing a written, site-specific fall protection plan.  The latter requirements are generally mandated by OSHA’s construction fall protection standard at 29 CFR 1926.501(b).

The new directive, however, changes this previous enforcement position, requiring residential construction employers to demonstrate that conventional fall protection on a particular job is infeasible or presents a greater hazard before utilizing alternative fall protection measures.  Furthermore, residential construction employers must develop a written, site-specific fall protection plan when utilizing these alternative methods.  According to the directive, "[a] written plan developed for repetitive use for a particular style/model home will be considered site-specific with respect to a particular site only if it fully addresses all issues related to fall protection at that site."

Notwithstanding the three month extension, residential construction employers should be actively examining their fall protection strategies and methods to ensure they are compliant with the new directive.