When is a task at heights temporary and infrequent?
If you have an employee who goes onto the roof of a client’s building (greater than 15 feet in height) to assess the condition of an air conditioning unit but not perform work on the unit which is more than 15 feet from the edge, do they need to use safety equipment to reduce/mitigate their risk of falling?
What if the client only requires this service infrequently? Again, it is a diagnostic visit rather than a repair visit. If your employees perform the repair, they always establish a work plan and use the appropriate personal fall arrest gear, guard rails, safety nets, etc. This practice would seem to meet the infrequent threshold for 29 CFR § 1910.28(b)(13)(iii)(A) and would possibly allow your employee to assess the equipment to see if it needs to be repaired without the use of additional safety gear.
But, what if your employee repeats this process as multiple sites for different clients on a daily basis? Is the task still “infrequent” and “temporary” as laid out by OSHA.
Clarification from OSHA
One of the things that OSHA does well is the publication of answers to letters asking for clarification of existing rules. They publish agency responses to these letters on the OSHA website on a frequent basis.
In regards to the first part of the scenario, OSHA responded that 29 CFR § 1910.28(b)(13)(iii)(A) provides an exemption to fall protection when employees are further than 15 from the edge, provided “that the work is both infrequent and temporary.”
In accordance with 29 CFR § 1910.28(b)(13)(iii)(A), when work is performed 15 feet or more from the roof edge, each employee must be protected from falling by a guardrail system, a safety net system, a travel restraint system, personal fall arrest system, or a designated area. This provision allows that employers are not required to provide any fall protection, provided the work is both infrequent and temporary and the employer implements and enforces a work rule that prohibits employees from going within 15 feet of the roof edge without fall protection. It is incumbent upon the employer to show that the exemption applies and that the work is both infrequent AND temporary.
OSHA response from Patrick Kapust to Timothy Brink
What do infrequent and temporary mean?
Whether an employer can show that the exemption applies depends upon whether the work is infrequent and temporary. The response from Kapust outlines a series of tasks that are viewed as being consistent with infrequent (annual service, battery replacement, filter replacement, repairs, etc.). However, because the particular employee in this scenario is performing this action (evaluating the condition of a device on a roof that is greater than 15 feet high and more than 15 feet from the edge) on a repeated basis (daily, weekly, etc.), the task is not considered to be infrequent.
Infrequent jobs also do not include those that workers perform as a primary or routine part of their job or repeatedly at various locations during a work shift.
OSHA response from Patrick Kapust to Timothy Brink
The letter acknowledges that this particular task is temporary in nature (diagnosing/evaluating the need for the repair) but notes that due to the fact that it does not meet the definition of infrequent, appropriate fall protection must be used each time the employee performs the task.
Some of the OSHA daily tips seem like they shouldn’t need to be said – much like today’s tip. But, we’ve all gone into a bathroom in a workplace – either as an employee or as a customer – that didn’t have hand soap or paper towels. During the pandemic, I can think of many different places that had hand sanitizer set up in key locations only to be left without having been refilled.
While hygiene supplies – whether it is soap, paper towels, or hand sanitizer – have a cost, that cost is significantly less than the cost of having one or more employees call out sick.
Even though we have been watching graphs of positive COVID cases go up and down over the last year, physicians have seen illnesses such as the flu and the common cold decrease over the same time. Public health officials attribute this to people washing their hands regularly, watching their distance, and covering their sneezes and coughs.
Training only works if the people that you are training understand what you are trying to share with them. When it comes to health and safety procedures, you need to make sure that the message gets to your employees.
OSHA offers a great e-mail feature that provides a workplace safety tip in your e-mail on a daily basis. Today’s tip was a solid reminder that while masks can help prevent spread of COVID, they are not a substitute for physical distancing and barriers.
Personal protective equipment (PPE), whether masks for COVID or hearing protection in noisy areas, is considered the last line of defense in protection of employees. Employers should attempt to use engineering controls or administrative controls to reduce or mitigate risks before relying on PPE to protect an employee.
Engineering controls involve changes to the physical workspace that change how a task is performed. When possible, engineering controls are the preferred over administrative controls because they help to mitigate risks at the source.
Engineering controls for COVID include physical barriers between workstations, changes to air filtration, inclusion of decontamination stations, installing drive through windows, installing contactless payment kiosks, etc.
Engineering controls for non-COVID related issues may include reducing the weight of objects, the use of assistive devices to handle materials, or machine guards.
Administrative controls involve changes in policies, procedures, and practices to reduce risks. Administrative controls rely on changing workers behaviors in a task and are not as effective as engineering controls.
Administrative controls for COVID include encouraging sick employees to stay home, use of Zoom meetings over face to face meetings, and establishing alternating workday cohort schedules.
Administrative controls for non-COVID related issues may include job rotation schedules, written operating procedures for a task, warning signs and alarms, etc.
With non-COVID related issues, the first steps are to identify the hazards and risks so that a decision can be made as to what engineering controls or administrative controls can be put into place. One of the job description projects that we had performed helped to expedite the purchase of an engineering control solution for a client.
County Weights and Measures personnel are responsible for testing the accuracy of pumps at gas stations and typically have performed this task using calibrated 5 gallon tanks that are filled at the pump and then poured back into the fuel storage tanks after measurement. This can be a dangerous task as it relies on drivers noticing the cones that may be placed to show that a pump is not available for service or notice the safety vest worn by the Weights and Measures employee.
After documenting this task for the custom job description, a suggestion was noted that the specialized pickup mounted collection and measurement device would reduce this risk. The device allows Weights and Measures officials to pump directly from the gas pumps into a truck mounted collection device that can be moved from pump to pump, rather than making multiple trips carrying 5 gallon containers across busy parking lots. This engineering control allows for significant reduction in risk of injury to the employee.
In the case of the climbing guide, OSHA looked into details surrounding a failure of a specific piece of safety equipment that failed as the climbing guide was attempting to retrieve a descending device. OSHA acknowledged that the item was a piece of personally owned gear and that the actual failure was a knot tied by the guide. Exum Mountain Guides agreed to perform formal annual inspections of both company and personal gear as part of their safety changes due to this case. It was acknowledged that the failure of the knot was not Exum’s responsibility and that it isn’t practical for Exum to double check every knot tied by its employees. OSHA also acknowledged that the guide was highly experienced.
The important thing to remember is that if there is a risk of injury to your employees, you need to have a safety plan to minimize or mitigate those risks – even if it is the potential of attacks by bears, whales, avalanches, or personal equipment failure.
The final rules changes for OSHA’s Walking and Working Surfaces/Personal Fall Protection System Rules have been put into place. This OSHA FAQ provides some quick answers to changes in the final publication.
The changes will involve engineering changes to reduce physical demands that involved excessive stooping, bending, lifting of heavy objects, and twisting while handling baggage. Many of those injuries could be traced to baggage-handling configurations that forced workers to stoop, bend, lift, or twist in ways that caused injuries that could have been avoided.