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Behind, Above, Around . . . Prepositioning OSHA

I have always been able to remember what a preposition is because of my 10th grade English teacher. She said, “a preposition is anything a rabbit can do to a hat, or a squirrel can do to a box.” You can imagine the fun our 15-year-old brains had coming up with those scenarios, while actually learning at the same time. Under, over, around and through: for the rest of my life, I will understand prepositions.

In our industry, sometimes prepositions are understood a little too well: especially when it comes to OSHA fall protection regulations. There are some specific clauses and perceived loopholes that can be gleefully embraced as official permission to not provide fall protection to workers.

Looking through the OSHA regulations, it could appear that there are times when you don’t need to provide fall protection. “SubPart M only applies to construction,” you may say. Or, “My employee is inspecting, not working.” You can work your way around, beyond, or above, the regulations, and that’s just fine, right?

Nope. Here’s the thing: there is a clause that overrides every other word in the OSHA Regulation Book, and that I hope will ring forever in every reader’s mind. Consider it the “prime directive” that lays out the baseline for everything else. It is one sentence. It is also common sense: “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment, and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Simply put, you must provide a safe work environment, no matter where or what the circumstances.

The General Duty Clause. Forget everything else and ask yourself this question when surveying a work area: Is it conceivable that someone would be hurt in a fall from this work area? If there is an accident, OSHA will hold you accountable.

And unlike our squirrel with the box, there is no getting around that.