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First Quarter 2013

Construction vs. Maintenance

By: Chris Hall

In any business environment, it is important to understand which government regulations apply.  This applies to the business, human resources, environmental, or safety aspects of the workplace.  When it comes to OSHA regulations, this same principle holds true.  For simplicity, OSHA has divided many of the regulations into categories based on particular types of industry; General Industry, Agriculture, Maritime, Construction, etc...  Some of the General Industry regulations are considered “horizontal,” meaning they can apply across all types of employment.  The Hazard Communication Standard is one such regulation that is enforced with every employer regardless of the industry.  It is common for safety professionals working for employers in other industries to be knowledgeable with those General Industry regulations.  What may not be as well-known is how the Construction regulations may also apply to many employers without their knowledge. 

This is all based on the way OSHA defines “construction” (covered by 29 CFR 1926) and “maintenance” (generally covered by 29 CFR 1910).  For the most part, if you are manufacturing products, running a distribution center, or work in the utility industry, the General Industry standard applies to your work environment.  On the occasion you are engaged in the activities of “construction, alteration, and/or repair, including painting and decorating,” the construction regulations will apply.  OSHA’s definition of maintenance is not as simple or specifically spelled out in any particular standard.  Maintenance is viewed as a larger grey area because it is "keeping equipment working in its existing state, i.e., preventing its failure or decline.”

Key considerations to make for differentiating between construction and maintenance include:

  • The size and scope of the work, including time and type of materials used.
  • The specific work activity.  Although some work may be considered maintenance, the work is more closely related to construction through the use of specific equipment or tools.
  • Whether the repair or replacement constitutes an improvement.

For example, if ABC Printing has a press for producing OSHA manuals, it has a regular schedule of maintenance activities for the press to ensure it runs smoothly and efficiently.  This maintenance is scheduled and ongoing throughout each day, week, month, or year.  Even if this activity causes the equipment to be taken out of service temporarily, it is likely maintenance because it is part of the routine upkeep.  In the event the ABC Printing press goes down due to malfunction and would require extensive repairs, it would be classified as construction, especially if the repairs were meant to improve the equipment.  Improvement, up to and including replacement, of the press would fall under the construction regulations.   

The construction guidelines are more suited to provide safety rules for dynamic activities, whereas the general industry regulations typically deal with static or unchanging conditions.  In either case, the “General Duty Clause” is still applicable and OSHA requires employers to identify all safety hazards and provide appropriate protective measures to prevent serious injury or death.  It is always recommended to take a look at which safety regulations may apply for a particular task, and follow the more stringent of them.

In determining which OSHA regulations apply to your work activity, you need to provide a detailed assessment of the work.  In many cases this will cause you to question how you have defined the work.  In the end, it is important to be as familiar with the work as possible and identify the differences in the OSHA regulations that would normally apply and the construction safety rules.

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