If there’s one thing we know about requirements for fall protection during construction work it’s that, if you are over 6’ above the next highest working surface (or less in certain states), you are legally required to use equipment specially designed to protect you from falling; the second you reach that height, you must be protected. Not doing so, aside from the obvious physical dangers it presents, may also put your company in line for a hefty fine from OSHA.
We also know that a mandatory component of a fall protection system is the anchorage connector. Because, after all, all the lanyards and harnesses in the world aren’t going to help if you don’t have anywhere to connect them.
And at some point along the line, obviously, we need to install our anchorage connector in order to be able to use it.
But wait a second…
We’re seemingly being presented with a kind of chicken or egg type paradox here…and it can leave a foul (sorry…bird humor) taste in our mouths. To work in construction at heights 6’ or above, you must be tied-off to an anchor point or otherwise protected. But to install your anchor point (the first one at least), you must work at heights 6’ or greater without being tied-off. But have no fear, because this problem is actually simple to solve. Let’s go to the standards!
WHAT DO THE STANDARDS SAY?
OSHA 1926 Subpart M, (1926.500(a)(1)) tells us that, “The provisions of this subpart do not apply when employees are making an inspection, investigation, or assessment of workplace conditions prior to the actual start of construction work or after all construction work has been completed.”
SO…WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Simply put, if it is your responsibility to install the very first fall protection anchorage connector on your job, you are not required to be tied-off while doing so.
In other words, if your role is to be the first person up on the roof, OSHA doesn’t expect you to magically install an anchor by lobbing it up on your roof and praying for it to rain nails. They do, however, expect you to immediately tie-off to that anchor once it is installed, and to never perform any other work prior to doing so.
BUT DOES THE INSTALLATION OF THE ANCHORAGE CONNECTOR ITSELF CONSTITUTE AN ACT OF CONSTRUCTION?
It does not. An anchorage connector is not a structural component of a building, and so installing one is not construction work.
A subtle point to be made here is that, while the installation of an anchorage connector isn’t construction, it is sometimes done simultaneous with an act of construction. For example, some anchorage connectors are required to be cast in place during the initial pouring of concrete. While the installation of these anchors wouldn’t be considered construction work, the pouring of the concrete and erection of the structure absolutely would, and consequently workers would be required to use fall protection if at heights greater than 6’.
ARE THERE OTHER SOLUTIONS?
This is a great time to bring in alternate forms of fall protection into the discussion, since sometimes there just isn’t a practical way to connect to an anchor. Scaffolding, man lifts, and guardrails are all excellent alternatives to more traditional fall protection systems, and can even mitigate dangers for workers required to be 6′ above the next highest work surface prior to the installation of the first fall protection anchor!
Because, if it’s feasible, why not install your first anchor from the comforts of a man lift, instead of doing so unprotected? No paradox there.
It’s important here to reemphasize that we are only talking about the installation of the first fall protection anchorage connector. It is assumed that, once the first anchor is installed, there will never again be a case where a worker will find themselves 6’ or higher above the ground and not protected in some way.
It may be that the installation of the first anchor doesn’t come until some alternate form of fall protection is already in place, at which point the issue becomes moot. But if an anchor is determined to be the best initial fall protection option, it is permitted to install it without being tied-off, provided no other construction work is being done.