Fall Protection Trigger Height – California vs. Federal

Federal OSHA recently prepared the Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation (FAME) report on Cal/OSHA.  The FAME report assesses California’s Occupation Safety and Health Program for fiscal year 2017 and its progress in resolving outstanding findings from the previous year.  The Federal report is important to Cal/OSHA in part because the Federal government provides nearly one-third of the Cal/OSHA budget.  Based on the federal metrics, the report is favorable as to how Cal/OSHA is performing.  However, I primarily want to discuss one regulatory issue that Fed-OSHA is requiring that Cal/OSHA change.

For many years Cal/OSHA has differed with the Fed-OSHA requirement on the trigger height for fall protection in construction.  According to Title 8, CCR §1670, “Approved personal fall arrest, personal fall restraint or positioning systems shall be worn by those employees whose work exposes them to falling in excess of 7 1/2 feet from the perimeter of a structure, unprotected sides and edges…”  In California, roofing operations have another trigger height. Section 1716.2 states that “structures greater than one story in height where the fall height exceeds 15 feet above the surrounding grade or floor level below… require fall protection. Federal OSHA in 1926.501 states that each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal and vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is 6 feet or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.

Cal/OSHA has maintained that the current trigger height for general fall protection and residential construction fall protection is as effective as the federal standard.  California’s construction fatalities from height fatalities has been lower the federal rate.  In addition, the argument has been that the California standard is more detailed, stringently enforced and complied by workers and employers.  Organizations such as the National Safety Council and American Society of Safety Engineers have argued for consistency in the rules and push for a 6-foot requirement.

It appears the California Occupational Safety and Health Standard Board is drafting regulations to meet the 6 foot standard.  A standardized regulatory impact analysis is being conducted.  Apparently the costs to industry will be significant.  However, by no means is the controversy over.  We will keep you apprised.