The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a new directive today mandating certain fall protection requirements for residential builders. The new directive replaces an interim directive that has been in effect since 1995 and allowed residential builders to bypass fall protection requirements.

OSHA officials cited fall related deaths and concern from construction industry experts as the reason for the new directive. According to data from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of 40 workers are killed each year as a result of falls from residential roofs.

OSHA's action rescinds the Interim Fall Protection Compliance Guidelines for Residential Construction, Standard 03-00-001, which allowed builders engaged in certain residential construction activities to use specified alternative methods of fall protection rather than the conventional fall protection standards. The new directive requires all residential builders to comply with 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1926.501(b)(13). Construction and roofing companies will have until June 16, 2011, to comply with the new directive.

Under 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(13) workers engaged in residential construction over six feet above the ground level are to be protected by conventional fall protection standards, which included guardrail systems, safety nets, and harness systems. While the new directive requires companies to adhere to the federal code, the code itself allows for companies to use alternative fall protection guidelines only if conventional standards are not feasible.

"Fatalities from falls are the number one cause of workplace deaths in construction. We cannot tolerate workers getting killed in residential construction when effective means are readily available to prevent those deaths," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) along with OSHA's labor-management group, Advisory Committee for Construction Safety and Health, recommended rescinding the old directive. The AFL-CIO and the Occupational Safety and Health State Plan Association, which represents the 27 states and territories that run their own occupational safety and health programs, also recommended the new directive.

OSHA has developed training and compliance assistance materials for small employers and will provide more information for parties interested in learning more about complying with the standard.