By: Shane Stuller

March 2014

One of the more difficult topics called into question in the workplace today is determining how interchangeable OSHA construction standards and general industry standards are, knowing which OSHA regulations to follow, and which regulations apply at what time. OSHA uses the designation of general industry to refer to all industries not included in construction, agriculture, or maritime and are covered under the 29 CFR 1910 standards. The construction industry standards, covered under 29 CFR 1926, addresses specific conditions that exist on construction sites and designates responsibilities by all construction industry employers.

The most important myth to dispel is the thought that the two standards are “interchangeable”. The standards that OSHA has established are not used in place of one another.  One standard does not replace or change places with the other. Although some standards are covered in duplicate, they are separate standards and there are numerous notable differences. Listed below are few examples that describe differences between the general industry and construction standards:

  • Cranes: While the 1926 standard addresses requirements for crane suspended platforms, material hoists, and personnel hoists, the 1910 regulations do not include these requirements.
  • Electrical: The 1926 standard requires ground fault-circuit interrupters (GFCIs) or an assured equipment conductor grounding program on all 120-volt outlets used by employees and are not part of permanent wiring. GFCIs and assured grounding programs are not addressed in 1910.
  • Fire Protection: The 1926 standard allows use of a 55 gallon water drum or ½ inch water hose in lieu of a fire extinguisher. This is not permitted under the 1910 standard.
  • Material Handling - Rigging: The 1926 standard contains a table for requirements of spacing and numbering of wire rope clips, while this is not included in the 1910 regulations.

Keep in mind though, that just because a regulation is addressed in the construction standards and not in the general industry standards does not mean that an organization cannot be cited from the 1910 standards. Although 1926 covers a variety of construction standards, hazards may still exist that are not included. In order for OSHA to properly address these hazards and protect employees, they may cite employers under 1910 when necessary.

Similarly, even if a company operates in a general industry facility, it is likely that they also perform construction work. Under 1910, OSHA describes construction work as “work for construction, alteration, and/or repair, including painting and decorating.” So, if employees perform additions to buildings, perform painting, make alterations, or perform demolition work to a building structure, it would be considered construction work by OSHA and therefore citable under the 1926 standards.

Below are some guidelines to help determine whether a certain activity falls under construction or general industry:

  • In order for work to be construction work, the employer need not itself be a construction company.
  • Construction work is not limited to new construction. It includes the repair of existing facilities.
  • Maintenance is not usually considered construction. While OSHA does not provide a specified definition for “maintenance”, “maintenance activities” can be defined as making or keeping a structure, fixture or foundation in proper condition in a routine, scheduled, or anticipated fashion. This definition implies keeping equipment working in its existing state. Nonetheless, a determination of whether a company is engaged in maintenance operations rather than construction activities must be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Whether the work is performed by an employee or outside contractor is irrelevant.
  • Scale and complexity of the job can make a difference. The more involved an operation is the more likely OSHA might view it as construction and not maintenance.

So even though the general industry and construction standards are not used interchangeably, they can be used in addition to one another, and simply stated, there are no clear-cut rules when determining which regulations apply at what time. OSHA provides guidelines, but the employer must make the decision of applicability. Becoming familiar with the various standards is the best way to know whether they apply to a specific application. To ensure OSHA compliance, it is necessary to understand the differences between the general industry and construction standards. As a best practice, regardless of whether the work task being performed is general industry or construction, the most conservative requirements should be followed.