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OSHA General Industry vs. Construction Industry Standards

Quick Tips #134

The Occupational Safety and Health Act was enacted to provide on-the-job safety and health conditions for American employees. The act established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and assigned it a general duty to ensure that employers keep their workplaces free from hazards likely to cause death or serious harm to employees. The act also gave the Secretary of Labor the authority to impose more specific duties or standards to certain high-risk industries by adopting additional standards if necessary.

Despite overall improvements, annual accident statistics have shown that the construction industry remains one of the most hazardous to workers. Each year, more than 1,000 construction workers die and 400,000 more suffer injuries or illnesses on the job. Because of this, the Secretary of Labor, in conjunction with OSHA, set forth specific standards for the construction industry. These can be found in 29 CFR Part 1926.

The construction industry standards designate the specific conditions required by all construction-industry employers. The standards are revised annually and cover a variety of construction work and processes, from residential to commercial. Construction-industry employers are legally bound to comply with these standards, as well as any related 29 CFR Part 1910 general-industry standards that also apply.

Many of the general-industry standards mentioned here have long been applied to construction employment. As part of the revision process, OSHA is making every effort to identify and incorporate the general-industry standards that are most likely to apply to construction work, but these have not been completely incorporated, and OSHA notes that other Part 1910 standards might be applicable under some circumstances.

1910 vs. 1926

Although 29 CFR 1910 and 1926 are separate standards, there are notable differences. Some standards are covered in duplicate, and some go into more depth than the other. What follows is an outline of the differences between standards covering fall protection, confined space, GFCI requirements, personal protective equipment (PPE), stairways and ladders, fire extinguishers, accident-prevention signs and tags, eye washes and illumination.

Fall Protection

Although 1926 and 1910 have versions of the fall-protection standard, the construction-industry standard is far more detailed than the general-industry standard. The construction-industry standard, 1926 Subpart M, states that fall protection is required when an employee is working at a height greater than or equal to 6 ft. The general-industry standard, 1910.23(c)(2) states that "every runway shall be guarded by a standard railing on all open sides 4 ft. or more above floor or ground level," referring to when guardrails are required on a platform or runway.

Since Jan. 1, 1998, the construction standard has not allowed the use of back belt-style harnesses. General-industry standards do not address the issue. 1926 also requires a locking snap on all harnesses and lanyards; 1910 does not. As a side note, equipment hardware strength requirements are the same for both standards.

Depending on the application of general industry or construction, the end user must select fall-protection products that comply with the regulations that apply to their specific use.

Confined Space

The confined-space standard for the construction industry, 29 CFR 1926.21(b)(6), is not as specific as the general-industry standard, 1910.146. When working in areas where confined-space entry might be required, the construction industry should refer to the general-industry standards for guidance. See Quick Tips #115: Confined Spaces, 29 CFR 1910.146.

A full range of confined-space products and air monitors can assist with full compliance of confined space regulations.


1926.404(b)(1)(ii) requires ground fault-circuit interrupters (GFCIs) on all 120-volt outlets at construction sites that are used by employees and are not part of permanent wiring. GFCIs are not required by general-industry standards.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Although the standards for PPE are fairly similar between construction and general industry, they do cover different types of PPE. The construction standards include requirements on body belts, lifelines and lanyards, safety nets and work that takes place on or over water. Construction Standards on basic PPE are typically not as specific as general-industry standards are. Construction employers should refer to the general-industry Standard for additional requirements. See Quick Tips #242: Construction PPE Standards.

Stairways and Ladders

1926.1060 requires training for each employee using stairways and ladders. General Industry standards do not specifically require a user of ladders or stairways to be trained.

Fire Extinguishers

1926.151 requires that fire extinguishers with at least a 2A rating must be provided every 3000 square feet. 1910.157 specifies the ratings of the required fire extinguishers. Travel distance to a fire extinguisher is also not specifically stated. See Quick Tips #135: Portable Fire Extinguishers: Maintenance, Use, Placement and Testing.

Accident-Prevention Signs and Tags

1926.200 requires that an accident-prevention sign or tag be visible at all times when work is performed. Signs must be removed or covered as soon as the hazard no longer exists. General Industry Standards do not require that employers cover signs as soon as the hazard no longer exists.

Eye Washes

1926.441 requires that an eye wash and body-flushing facility be within 25 feet of a battery-changing area. The general-industry standard follows the ANSI recommendation that the eye wash be reachable within 10 seconds and located on the same level as the hazard. See Quick Tips #120: Emergency Shower and Eye Wash Station Requirements.

There are many plumbed, gravity-feed and portable eyewash/shower units to select from to comply with eyewash regulations.


1926.56 has very specific illumination requirements for construction sites, while general-industry standards rarely specify illumination requirements. For example, the construction standard requires that there be at least five foot-candles for general construction-area lighting. General-industry standards are much broader. Light meters can help assess the illumination levels of an area.

Commonly Asked Questions
Q.   Why can I be cited under a general-industry standard when working in the construction industry?
A.   Although 29 CFR 1926 covers a variety of construction standards, hazards still exist that are not included. In order for OSHA to properly address these hazards and protect employees, they do cite employers under both standards when necessary.
Q.   How does an employer know whether it is covered by the general-industry or construction standards?
A.   Becoming familiar with the various standards is the best way to know whether they apply to a specific industry or application. If, after studying the standards, employers are still unsure, they can contact the local OSHA-consultation office for a determination on whether a specific standard applies.
Q.   Where can I locate a copy of the 29 CFR 1910 & 1926 standards?
A.   Copies of the standards are available for purchase from OSHA, or they can be downloaded free of charge from OSHA's website. Both 29 CFR 1910 and 29 CFR 1926 are easy to follow, read and access through OSHA's user-friendly site.




29 CFR 1910

29 CFR 1926

(Rev. 1/2012)


Find even more information you can use to help make informed decisions about the regulatory issues you face in your workplace every day. View all Quick Tips Technical Resources at

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Please Note:
The content in this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only. This publication is not a substitute for review of the applicable government regulations and standards, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific compliance questions should refer to the cited regulation or consult with an attorney.

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