Fall Protection Takes Center Stage

A number of fall protection issues and regulations are making news and waves in Washington these days. A key fall protection issue is bridge inspection. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, notes that 73,000 of the nation's bridges are structurally deficient.

A Closer Look at Bridges and Bridge Inspections

There are nearly 600,000 bridges in the United States (including Puerto Rico). About one-third of them were built in 1960 or earlier. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), most bridges are inspected every two years for about 300,000 bridge inspections per year. In addition, the Federal Railraod Administration (FRA) estimates there are more than 90,000 railroad bridges. Fall protection is required for inspectors in a majority of these inspections.

Highway bridges receive ratings based on the condition of various bridge components. Two terms used to summarize bridge deficiencies are “structurally deficient“ and “functionally obsolete.“ Structural deficiencies connote deteriorated conditions. Functional obsolescence means the bridge does not meet current design standards (i.e., it could be a two-lane bridge that was widened to a four-lane bridge with no shoulder and narrower lanes).

The FHWA has jurisdiction for roadway bridges, but the agency has ruled that the states are responsible for conducting bridge inspections and that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has regulatory authority for safety practices of bridge inspections. However, the FRA has jurisdiction for those working on and inspecting railroad bridges.

What's Happening on the State Level?

One snapshot of a state bridge inspection program may be found in Virginia. Jeff Caldwell, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), said his agency is responsible for more than 20,800 structures, and that “VDOT conducts between 11,000 and 12,000 inspections each year.” This rate of inspection, he notes, exceeds federal requirements.

What OSHA Regulations Must be Followed?

OSHA's construction regulations for fall protection make clear (in 29 CFR 1926.500 (a)(1)) that “the provisions of this subpart do not apply when employees are making an inspection…of workplace conditions prior to the actual start of construction work or after all construction work has been completed.”

This sends us to OSHA's General Industry standards. OSHA's “Working/Walking Surfaces” standard (also known as “Subpart D” of OSHA's General Industry standards) applies to dangerous or elevated work surfaces, such as a bridge or raised platform. Although not specifically included in Subpart D, personal fall protection is required where railings on raised work surfaces are not feasible or practical.

This allowance is established in OSHA interpretation letter 01-01-013, which states that “situations where safeguards and guardrails are not applicable …personal protective equipment…or other effective fall protection shall be provided.”

International Safety Equipment Association members are working to make certain Subpart D is updated to include fall protection, and so that OSHA does not have to rely on a patch-work of interpretation letters to set forth fall protection regulations (see below).

Again, VDOT provides a look at how one state conducts its federal bridge inspection responsibilities. VDOT complies with federal and state safety requirements, Caldwell says, “This includes requiring the appropriate personal fall-arrest systems (harnesses, lanyards, retractable lifelines, etc.) and other safety equipment (hard hats, steel toe shoes, eyewear, etc.) for all VDOT and consultant inspectors.” VDOT “inspectors have taken fall-protection classes and have individual harnesses and lanyards. Also, [VDOT] bridge inspection vehicles are equipped with additional harnesses, lanyards and other equipment for use by these crews,” according to VDOT's spokesman.

ISEA Members Advocate for Fall Protection Standards

ISEA's members who make fall protection visited their congressional delegations this year to ask Members of Congress to urge the Labor Department and OSHA leaders to stick to their proposed schedule of fall protection-related regulations.

A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for Subpart D is scheduled for April 2008. This project will address slip, trip and fall hazards, and will establish requirements for personal fall-protection systems. The Subpart D update began in 1990. ISEA members are working to make certain this regulatory project stays on track because we believe that when OSHA's mandatory regulatory text is clear and comprehensive, employers know their responsibilities and workers are safer.

We also believe OSHA needs to know that fall protection regulations are important to Members of Congress. If you would like to support this effort, please let us know. Contact us at [email protected].


Dan Glucksman is director of public affairs for the International Safety Equipment Association, where he directs the legislative and regulatory program for the association and its product groups. His “Washington Watch” column is a regular feature of Protection Update. Reach him at [email protected] or 703-525-1695.

MSA's Lambert, North's Ellis Elected to Lead ISEA Board

William M. Lambert, president and chief operating officer of Mine Safety Appliances Co., Pittsburgh, has been elected chairman of the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) Board of Trustees. Charles S. “Sid” Ellis, president of North Safety Products, Cranston, R.I., has been elected Board vice chairman.

Lambert succeeds Michael A. McLain, chairman, president and CEO of Aearo Technologies, Indianapolis, Ind., who remains on the ISEA Board as past chairman. The elections took place at ISEA's 2007 Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.

Newly elected to the board were Julie Bushman, vice president, 3M Company Occupational Health & Environmental Safety Division, St. Paul, Minn.; Brian Lyons, vice president of sales & marketing, International Enviroguard Systems, Inc., Mesquite, Texas, and Joseph J. Reimer, senior vice president — Fall Protection Division, Sperian Protection (formerly Bacou-Dalloz), Franklin, Pa.

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