OSHA Interpretation: Employees Must Be Protected From All Impalement Hazards

Stephanie McCauley


This recent clarification on impalement hazards from OSHA on March 18, 2014 is a perfect example why all employers must know and take to heart the General Duty Clause (section 5(a)(1)).

The International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers asked OSHA if it recognized objects other than reinforcing steel as impalement hazards.

This is because, OSHA has only two construction hazards that mention impalement:

  1. 1926.701 (b) says about reinforcing steel: “All protruding reinforcing steel, onto and into which employees could fall, shall be guarded to eliminate the hazard of impalement.”
  2. 1926.25 (a) says about protruding nails: “During the course of construction, alteration, or repairs, form and scrap lumber with protruding nails, and all other debris, shall be kept cleared from work areas, passageways, and stairs, in and around buildings or other structures.”

But where specific regulations may fail to cover every situation, OSHA’s General Duty (or “Elastic Clause”) requires employers to keep the workplace free from known hazards that can cause serious harm or death. OSHA even pointed out a few examples: steel stakes and metal conduit.

OSHA referred to a similar response they provided in 1999, which states that it would consider its requirement for protective devices for rebar – cover or a wooden trough that can stand at least 250 pounds dropped from 10 feet to meet the 1926.701(b) requirement – to also apply to other sharp objects.

In short, OSHA has determined that employers are required to protect employees exposed to impalement, whether or not specific examples are contained in their standards, or simply implied by the General Duty Clause.

2014 Interpretations

In addition to creating new and updating current regulations, OSHA publishes interpretations and answers to questions about existing rules. Here is what has been released in 2014:

  • Construction’s Electrical Power Regulations Final Rule
  • Cranes and Derricks Near Power Lines
  • Recordkeeping for Multiple Business Establishments
  • How to Decide It’s a Workplace Injury
  • Safety Data Sheet (SDS) Reporting of Petroleum Streams
  • Combustible Dust Labeling Requirements in Hazard Communication Standard (HCS)
  • OSHA Definition of A HNOC Clarified for the HCS
  • General Duty Clause Covers All Impalement Hazards
  • Employer Responsible for Determining Qualified Rigger Status
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