To tie off or not to tie off when working over water in an Aerial Lift
Scenario: You are the safety manager of an electrical contractor and you have a project where an electrician will be required to work from an aerial lift set up on land, but the boom will be positioned in such a way that the operator (your electrician) will be working over water while in the basket. Your client requires anyone working from an aerial boom lift over water or over land near water to wear a harness, lanyard, and life vest. Your employees have come to you expressing their concern with this requirement. They believe that in the event of a situation which resulted in workers being in the water, being tied-off in the basket would exacerbate the risk of drowning. You concur with your employees and present this concern to the client. Your client states that by allowing workers to disconnect from their anchorage point while in the lift when they are over water violates the OSHA fall protection rule. However, if you can show them there is no violation from OSHA’s perspective, they are willing to reconsider their stance.
Question: Does 29 CFR 1926.453(b)(2)(v) permit employees working from an aerial lift over water to wear life vests and a personal fall arrest system that is not attached to the boom or basket? If not, is there any other guidance from OSHA involving this exposure?
Answer: In an updated letter of interpretation from OSHA dated March 20, 2010, OSHA states the fall protection requirements in 29 CFR 1926.453(b)(2)(v) does not address employees working over water. The applicable requirements for working over water are addressed in 29 CFR 1926.106, which states “employees working over or near water, where the danger of drowning exists, shall be provided with U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket or buoyant work vests” but does not address fall protection requirements. However, in similar worksite conditions, Subpart CC, section 1926.1431(k)(10)(i), Cranes and Derricks in Construction, provides an exception to fall protection requirements for employees occupying boom-attached or suspended personnel platforms over water. This exception provides: “except over water, employees occupying the personnel platform must be provided and use a personal fall arrest system”. This exception is limited to construction or marine construction activities only. As the preamble to the Cranes and Derricks Rule explains, “a personal fall arrest system would not be required because in the event that an error occurred that resulted in the employees being in the water, being tied-off would exacerbate the drowning hazard.” The same rationale applies for employees working on as aerial lift over water because a similar potential error exists that could expose employees to the same drowning hazard.
OSHA further states that although fall protection is required under 29 CFR 1926.453(b)(2)(v) for the use of an aerial lift, they consider it a de minimis violation of 29 CFR 1926.453(b)(2)(v) only where employees on an aerial lift who are wearing a harness, lanyard, and a life vest unhook their lanyard from the boom or basket while working over water.
More on OSHA and Aerial Lifts click here.