Using Letter of Interpretations for Construction

Few industries are exempt from OSHA compliance. In the construction industry, OSHA provides "letters" that interpret or update former OSHA compliance standards.

For construction managers and construction business owners letters of interpretation help to clarify OSHA compliance regulations. Click To Tweet

For construction managers and construction business owners letters of interpretation help to clarify OSHA compliance regulations. These letters may include issues that confront construction managers such as:
  • Clarifications of personal ladder boom system requirements
  • Employer payment for personal protective equipment
  • Shop installed continuous bent plate in steel erection
  • Fall protection requirements applicable during the construction of retaining walls
Each of these letters are found in the OSHA database listed according to OSHA CFR regulations and subparts and are listed according to the year in which letters of interpretation were entered into OSHA's records. Actual letter inquiries from those in the construction industry are answered by OSHA directors. For example, storing compressed gas cylinders used in construction work raised the question: "Does 29 CFR ยง 1926.350(a) (9) permit compressed gas cylinders to be stored horizontally in commercial cylinder holders designed for horizontal storage?"

OSHA's response to this inquiry was:

"Response: No. Section 1926.350(a) (9) provides: Compressed gas cylinders shall be secured in an upright position at all times except, if necessary, for short periods of time while cylinders are actually being hoisted or carried." This is the basic format when you need to inquire about issues related to workplace safety and health under OSHA compliance. Note that all inquiries regarding OSHA standards should always include the CFR reference number. Be sure to check the OSHA database to avoid inquiries already found in OSHA letters of interpretation.

How to Use Letters of Interpretation for Construction

Very often when OSHA updates or changes occur to compliance standards, there may be ambiguity or confusion for those in the construction industry. To avoid this, review existing letters of interpretation. If a question remains unanswered, create a letter of interpretation that addresses the unanswered issue. For example, a 2010 letter of interpretation addressed permissible methods of operating trucks in reverse on construction sites. ((1926.601), (2010, March 2).) This letter of inquiry asked, "Does 29 CFR 1926 Subpart O permit an employer to use a rear-mount day/night camera system with in-cab monitoring of the truck's rear instead of a back-up alarm?" OSHA provided the response: "Two requirements in 29 CFR 1926 Subpart O, 1926.601(b)(4) and 1926.602(a)(9), relate to back-up alarms, on trucks in construction, both of which are triggered when the operator's view is obstructed:1" with a listing of additional sections as references.

The Basic Use of a Letter of Interpretation for Construction

OSHA predicates responses to letters of interpretation upon this basic scope: "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" One way to make optimal use of a letter of interpretation for construction is through an OSHA health and safety training program found online at

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