Shipyards Back Some, Not All, Possible OSHA Fall Rule Changes

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By Bruce Rolfsen

Dec. 8 — Changes to OSHA’s 45-year-old shipyard fall protection rules shouldn’t include wholesale adoption of the agency’s general industry requirements, the nation’s largest shipbuilding trade association says.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is considering revising shipyard fall protection standards (29 C.F.R. 1915 Subpart E) that haven’t been updated since 1971.

As an initial step, the agency asked the industry what concerns it had if general industry rules covering most manufacturers applied to shipyards (81 Fed. Reg. 62,052). The comment period ended Dec. 7.

The Shipbuilders Council of America, in a Dec. 1 letter, told the agency that many of changes under consideration “would impose new requirements on shipyards which forces significant additional financial costs and administrative burdens, greater uncertainties.”

An estimate of the costs wasn’t included in the comments.

The council supports having more common safety requirements among shipyards and general industry, because workers often switch between ship building projects and general industry sites.

However, unique working conditions and different practices will require some shipbuilding mandates to be different, the council’s government affairs manager, Stephen Woodring, told OSHA.

The council represents dozens of companies including Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., General Dynamics Corp and BAE Systems PLC.

One example of unique conditions, the council cites, is fixed ladders and stairs onboard ships that workers may use while building or repairing vessels. Often stair angles, tread depth and other dimensions don’t comply with general industry rules because stairs were designed specifically for the vessel.

In situations where OSHA decided to apply general industry requirements, the council says OSHA should allow equipment that complies with current rules, such as scaffolds and portable ladders, to be grandfathered.

Al Rainsberger, president of the Puget Sound Shipbuilder’s Association cited the difficulty of making all guardrails the same height in a Dec. 6 letter. While the goal is “good in theory,” Rainsberger told OSHA, it would be difficult for existing facilities to become completely compliant.

The rulemaking is at an early stage (RIN:1218-AC85) and OSHA hasn’t said when it may move toward issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking offering specific provisions.

OSHA estimates falls annually kill five to seven shipyard workers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

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