For purposes of OSHA’s construction standards (29 CFR Part 1926), the top of a storage tank would not be a “roof” but rather a “walking/working surface.” See §1926.500(b) Definitions. The top of a storage tank would be considered a “platform” for purposes of Subpart D of the General Industry standards (29 CFR Part 1910) depending on the frequency of employee use. OSHA has issued guidance on when an elevated working surface will be treated as a platform covered by the standard. See OSHA Instruction STD 1-1.13, “Fall Protection in General Industry 29 CFR §1910.23(c)(1), (c)(3), and 29 CFR §1910.132(a)” (April 16, 1984, copy enclosed).
OSHA is engaged in a rulemaking to revise the requirements of Subparts D and I of 29 CFR Part 1910 (55 Federal Register 13360, April 10, 1990; 68 Federal Register 23528, May 2, 2003). Under the proposed revisions, the top of a tank where employees sometimes perform inspection or maintenance duties would fall within the definition of a “walking and working surface” as defined in the proposal, and fall protection would usually be required if the surface is more than four feet above an adjacent level. See proposed §1910.27(b)(1).
Pursuant to §1910.23(c)(1), the open sides of platforms more than four feet above an adjacent floor or ground level must be guarded by a standard railing or the equivalent. If the top of a tank is not a “platform” under the analysis called for in OSHA’s guidance document, the guardrail requirements of that standard would not apply. However, if perimeter guarding is not provided, fall protection in the form of personal protective equipment would likely be required by §1910.132(a).
A steeply sloped walking or working surface increases the risk that an employee will slip and fall. Injury could also result if the employee slides into any perimeter guardrails or protrusions in the surface. Personal protective equipment as required by §1910.132 could take the form of shoes with slip resistant soles. Although not personal protective equipment within the meaning of §1910.132, a non-skid surface on the tank itself would provide additional protection, as would the installation of a handrail.
OSHA standard at 1910.23(a)(2) requires that “Every ladderway floor opening or platform shall be guarded by a standard-railing with standard toeboard on all exposed sides (except at entrance to opening), with the passage through the railing either provided with a swinging gate or so offset that a person cannot directly walk into the opening.” However, the proposed paragraph at 1910.28(b)(6) permits the use of movable guardrail sections such as gates, chains, and other means, which, when open, provide a means of access and, when closed, provide the guardrail protection that meets the proposed paragraphs 1910.28(b)(1) through (b)(5). An employer’s compliance with the proposed rule, in lieu of compliance with an existing rule, is considered as a de minimis violation. As stated above, OSHA does not issue citations, impose penalties, or require correction of de minimis violations.