OSHA has two standards for scaffolding. OSHA 1910.28 provides the safety requirements for scaffolding for general industry. OSHA 1926 Subpart L provides the scaffolding standards for construction. An important question is: what determines which standard applies? Is it the activity being performed? Or is it the SIC code (type of industry) under which the company doing the work is classified?
OSHA's answer is that the activity determines which standard applies. But, that's not as clear-cut as it sounds. For example, what if a large valve is being temporarily removed so that test equipment can be installed at the valve's location? Is that a maintenance activity, to which the 1910.28 safety requirements for scaffolding apply, or is it a construction activity?
Safety Standards for Scaffolding - Maintenance vs. Construction
OSHA's definition of construction is "construction, alteration, and/or repair, including painting and decorating." Construction work is not limited to new construction, but can include the repair of existing facilities or the replacement of structures and their components. For example, the replacement of a wooden utility pole with a new wooden pole is considered to be maintenance. However, if it is replaced with a composite material pole, that would be considered construction. Let's find out why.
OSHA does not have a regulatory definition of maintenance. However, in an OSHA interpretation letter OSHA states the following:
Maintenance activities have commonly been defined in dictionaries as making or keeping a structure, fixture or foundation (substrates) in proper condition in a routine, scheduled, or anticipated fashion. In OSHA's directive on the general industry confined space standard, the Agency stated that maintenance involves 'keeping equipment working in its existing state, i.e., preventing its failure or decline.'
Based on these definitions, removing the valve and installing temporary test equipment would be a maintenance activity, and thus the 1910.28 safety requirements for scaffolding apply. The criteria that the work be routine and anticipated, and not modifying the existing system, have been met.
But, what if the valve is being cut out and replaced with a new valve?
In general it would be considered a maintenance activity. If the work just involves directly replacing a valve, without significant changes to the system or surrounding equipment, it is maintenance. However, if the valve is replaced with a different type of valve or replacing the valve requires that a major part of the system be cut, unbolted, moved, or altered—then the work is considered to be construction.
Safety Standards for Scaffolding – Questions
Sometimes what appears to be obvious maintenance work is defined by OSHA as construction work. How does OSHA determine whether work is maintenance or construction? Here are some questions that people in industry have asked:
- Does the physical condition of the equipment make a difference? For example, if equipment is removed, cleaned and refurbished, and then the same equipment is reinstalled, verses equipment which has completely deteriorated and must be removed and permanently replaced.
- What if material replacement is done to replace a system that has deteriorated beyond use? In this case the work on the system was not done to prevent further deterioration, but to totally replace what was there.
- Do the physical characteristics (size, weight, composition, etc.) of the system or equipment being worked on make a difference?
- Is there a difference if the work is done by a contractor verses the facility's employees?
- Is work done during a scheduled annual outage automatically considered to be maintenance?
- Does it make a difference whether the work is done on components classified as plant equipment, verse those that are a part of the plant structure?
Safety Standards for Scaffolding – The Answers
Determining what is maintenance and what is construction work is not always straightforward. Even if the work involves a direct one-for-one replacement of a component that OSHA may classify as construction. Here are some of the factors OSHA considers:
- The scale and complexity of the work (for example, the amount of time and material that is required). Large scale or complex work is always considered as construction.
- The physical size of the object on which the work is being done.
- The extent of the alterations required in surrounding components or systems.
- The characteristics of the materials being used.
- Whether replacement components or equipment are an improvement over what had existed.
OSHA gives the example of a steel beam that has become corroded and needs to be replaced with an identical beam. That's a direct replacement, so you might assume it is classified as maintenance. But, because of the scale and complexity of replacing a structural steel beam, it is considered to be construction work.
Another example is the normally scheduled stripping and repainting a large bridge. This would seem to be a maintenance project, but again because of the size and complexity of the work, OSHA classifies this as construction.
The size of an object become a factor when, because of its size, the process of replacement involves a significant amount of work or alterations to the existing structure. If there is a significant amount of work, it is classified as construction. A good rule of thumb is that if, the work is considered a “project,” then it is construction.
The characteristics of the materials being used can also influence how the work will be classified. Again, the criteria that will be applied are whether the scale and complexity of the work is such that the work should be considered as construction work. Large, heavy objects tend to require a large scale effort, and that classifies the work as construction.
Also, if the replacement material is an improvement over what was existing, then it is considered construction work. This was illustrated in the telephone pole example mentioned earlier.
A factor that does not make any difference is whether the work is performed by an in-house crew or an outside contractor. The people who do the work are not a consideration, only the work itself.
Safety Standards for Scaffolding – Making the Right Decision
How do you know whether to follow the 1910.28 general industry scaffolding standard, or the 1926 Subpart L construction standard? Use your best judgment and document the reasons for your decision. Keep in mind that only small scale work that does not involve installing upgraded components, is categorized as maintenance work.