A standard is written this way: 29 CFR 1926.405(j)(4)(ii)(C). (The example being used is an electrical standard addressing electrical equipment for general use.) The “29” is the United States Code Title and defines the standards that are being referred to. The “CFR” refers to the “Code of Federal Regulations.” There are many codes of federal regulations that address a multitude of topics and activities. We are interested in only a small portion of those regulations, and for this article, only those regulations that pertain to the OSHA standards that pertain to scaffolding. Title 29, Chapter XVII is set aside for OSHA. The “XVII” is a roman numeral and is “17” in English.
The OSHA standards encompass the various industries in the workplace. To make it easier to find a specific standard, the regulations are divided into “parts;” the “1926” is a “part” that pertains to Construction. You may be familiar with the part that pertains to General Industry which is Part 1910. Maritime standards can be found in Parts 1915, 1917 and 1918 while Part 1904 includes information on “Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness.” In our example, your first look will tell you that it is a construction standard because of the 1926 designation. If your work is in General Industry, this standard would not be applicable.
Each “Part” of the standards is divided into major “Subparts.” In the case of the Construction Standards, 1926 is divided into 26 major Subparts and are designated by capitol letters, A through Z. Subpart L addresses scaffolding. Other examples include Subpart M, Fall Protection; Subpart X, Stairs and Ladders; Subpart K, Electrical, and; Subpart R, Steel Erection.
Within each of these subparts are “Sections.” Sections become more specific. For scaffolding, Subpart L, there are five sections:
Section 29 CFR 1926.450 is titled Scope Application and Definitions applicable to this subpart;
Section 29 CFR 1926.451 is titled General Requirements;
Section 29 CFR 1926.452 is titled Additional Requirements applicable to specific types of scaffolds;
Section 29 CFR 1926.453 is titled Aerial Lifts;
Section 29 CFR 1926.454 is titled Training Requirements.
Within each Section are major “Paragraphs.” For example, in 29 CFR 1926.451, the General Requirements for Scaffolding, there are eight major Paragraphs, a through h. Each one of these Paragraphs addresses a specific topic. For example, “a” addresses scaffold capacity while “f” addresses the use of scaffolds.
The actual “Standard” or regulation exists within each “Paragraph.” Each Standard is numbered, beginning obviously with 1 and continuing until the subject matter is adequately addressed. Some Paragraphs have only a few standards while others have many. In scaffolding, for example, the Capacity Paragraph has six Standards while the “Criteria for Suspension Scaffolds” Paragraph has 19 Standards.
Each “Paragraph” may also have “Subsections” instead of a single Standard. Another way of looking at this is that a Standard may have additional information, making the Standard a “Subsection.” This is where the roman numerals and letters come into play. In our electrical example, 29 CFR 1926.405(j)(4)(ii)(C), the 4 is the Standard while the “ii” and the “C” are additional pieces of information for that specific Standard Number 4. (You cannot take the information in “ii” and “C” and apply it to another Standard. It is only applicable to Standard Number 4.)
So what does this all mean? It means that the OSHA standards are systematic in their arrangement. If you told me that I was in violation of 29 CFR 1926.451(a)(6) I would immediately know that you are talking about the requirement that all scaffolds shall be designed by a qualified person and built according to that design. On the other hand, if you told me my scaffold was in violation of 29 CFR 1926.405(j)(4)(ii)(C), I would have to tell you that you are mistaken since those are standards addressing electrical hazards.
In summary, the system works like this: If the standard is 29 CFR 1926.451(d)(12)(v), the 29 and the CFR tell us that we are dealing with US federal OSHA standards. The 1926 tells use that it is the Construction Standards. The 451 tells us that it is the Scaffold General Requirements. The d tells us that it is the Criteria for Suspension Scaffolds. The 12 tells us that it has to do with wire rope clips and finally the v tells us that “U-bolt clips shall not be used at the point of suspension for any scaffold hoist.” If you are using u-bolts, you are in violation of 29 CFR 1926.451(d)(12)(v).
Are you expected to memorize all the standards? Absolutely not. But you can see that if you are working with scaffolds, and somebody tells you that you are in violation of 29 CFR 603(a)(1) you get to ask the accuser what the scaffold has to do with Pile Driving Equipment! In other words, if 450 through 454 isn’t in there somewhere, it may be the wrong standard.