OSHA Standard Interpretation
08/23/2004 – Life jacket/buoyant work vest requirements for employees working over water <2 feet deep; requirements for lifesaving skiffs.
OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA’s interpretation of the requirements discussed.
Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA’s website at http://www.osha.gov.
Question (1): Under §1926.106(a) would a life jacket or buoyant work vest be required where employees are working over water that is less than 2 feet deep where they could easily stand up?
29 CFR 1926.106(a) states:
Employees working over or near water, where the danger of drowning exists, shall be provided with U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket of buoyant work vests. [Emphasis added.]
Section 1926.106(a) does not specify a minimum depth of water where a danger of drowning would exist. However, several factors are relevant to determining whether a danger of drowning exists. These include the type (i.e., a pool, a river, a canal), depth, presence or absence of a current, height above the water surface, and the use of fall protection.
Depending on the factors present, there are some circumstances where a drowning hazard could exist where workers are near or over water that is less than 2 feet in depth. For example, where workers are not using fall protection and are 10 feet above a river, a worker may fall and be knocked unconscious. Without the use of a life jacket or buoyant work vest, a worker in such a scenario could drown.
Note, though, that in a September 28, 1999, letter to Mr. Douglas Walters we addressed the issue of providing life jackets to employees working over or near water who use fall protection. In that letter we stated that:
When continuous fall protection is used (without exception) to prevent employees from falling into the water, the employer has effectively removed the drowning hazard, and life jackets or buoyant work vests are not needed.
Therefore, in question # 1, if the workers were to use 100% fall protection (without exception) while over or near water, life jackets/vests would not be required under §1926.106(a) because you would have removed the drowning hazard.
Work Vest Example:
This Work Vest has a back slot to facilitate wearing over a fall restraint harness. This feature allows the snap hook and lanyard to be worn outside the Vest.