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OSHA General Industry vs. Construction Industry Standards

Quick Tips #134

On Dec. 29, 1970, President Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) into law. The act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), who is charged with assuring safe and healthful conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, education and compliance assistance. No matter what type of business you are in, if you have employees, OSHA’s standards may affect you.

The OSHA standards are divided into four major categories based on the type of work being performed: agriculture (29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1928), construction (Part 1926), general industry (Part 1910) and maritime (Parts 1915, 1917 and 1918) employment. In addition, the general duty clause requires every employer to provide every employee with a place of employment free from recognized hazards.

General industry standards apply to any type of employment in any industry, including agriculture, construction and maritime employment, to the extent that specific standards for these other industries do not apply. Specific industry standards take priority over general industry standards if they address identical hazards. Some standards impose similar requirements on all industry sectors, for example personal protective equipment (PPE) and hazard communication.

OSHA maintains a list of the top 10 most frequently cited standards following inspections of worksites to alert employers, so they can take steps to find and fix recognized hazards before preventable injuries and illnesses occur. For more than 10 years, construction and general industry standards have been cited most often.

Despite overall improvements, annual accident statistics have shown that the construction industry remains one of the most hazardous to workers. Each year, more than 1000 construction workers die and 400,000 others suffer injuries or illnesses on the job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), from 1993 to 2013 the occupational injury-related death rate for construction has averaged 11.68 deaths per 100,000 workers. That rate is 3.3 times higher than the overall occupational injury-related average death rate of 3.55 for all industries combined in that same 21-year time frame. Because of this, the Secretary of Labor, in conjunction with OSHA, continues to set forth specific standards for the construction industry.

This document discusses some of the construction and general industry standards that address identical hazards, but with notable differences.

Fall Protection

The construction standards (1926 Subpart M) state that fall protection is required when an employee is working at a height greater than or equal to six feet. The general industry standard, 1910.23(c)(2) states that “every runway shall be guarded by a standard railing on all open sides four feet or more above floor or ground level,” referring to when guardrails are required on a platform or runway for fall prevention.

Since Jan. 1, 1998, the construction standards have not allowed the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system. General industry standards do not address this issue.

OSHA has recognized slips, trips and falls are among the leading causes of work-related injuries and fatalities and that fall protection is not adequately discussed in the general industry standards. A rule to update the general industry walking working surfaces standards (1910 Subpart D) and personal protective equipment standards (Subpart I) is in the final rule stage.

Confined Space

OSHA’s final standard for construction work in confined spaces became effective Aug. 3, 2015. The new standard, Subpart AA of 29 CFR 1926, sets requirements for practices and procedures to protect employees engaged in construction activities at a worksite with one or more confined spaces. However, the standard does not apply to construction work regulated elsewhere in Part 1926 for excavations, underground construction and diving operations. The standard provides construction employees with protections similar to those general industry employees have had for more than two decades, but with some differences tailored to the construction industry including:

  • More detailed provisions for coordinating activities with other employers at the site
  • Requiring a competent person to evaluate the site and identify confined and permit spaces
  • Requiring continuous atmospheric monitoring when possible
  • Requiring continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards
  • Allowing for the suspension of a permit, instead of cancellation
  • Requiring that employers who direct employees to enter a space without using a complete permit system first eliminate or isolate any physical hazards
  • Requiring that employers who are relying on local entities for emergency services to arrange for those responders to give the employer advance notice if they will be unable to respond for a period of time
  • Requiring employers to provide training in a language and vocabulary that the employee understands

See Quick Tips #115: Confined Spaces, 29 CFR 1910.146 for more information.

Grainger offers a wide range of confined-space products and air monitors to help assist with full compliance of confined space regulations.

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.

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.

1926.1053 states “Fixed ladders shall be provided with cages, wells, ladder safety devices, or self-retracting lifelines where the length of climb is less than 24 feet but the top of the ladder is at a distance greater than 24 feet above lower levels. Where the total length of a climb equals or exceeds 24 feet, fixed ladders shall be equipped with one of the following: ladder safety devices, or self-retracting lifelines, and rest platforms at intervals not to exceed 150 feet or a cage or well, and multiple ladder sections not to exceed 50 feet in length.” General industry standard 1910.27 requires fixed ladders to be equipped with cages or wells on ladders of more than 20 feet (to a maximum of 30 feet). However, fixed ladders on towers, water tanks and chimney ladders that are over 20 feet in unbroken length may be equipped with suitable safety devices such as lifebelts, friction brakes and siding attachments in lieu of cages.

Fire Extinguishers

1926.151 requires that fire extinguishers with at least a 2A rating must be provided every 3000 square feet. 1910.157 specifies that portable fire extinguishers be provided for employee use and selected and distributed based on the classes of anticipated workplace fires and on the size and degree of potential hazard:

Fire Class

Travel Distance

Class A

75 feet or less

Class B

50 feet or less

Class C

Based on A or B hazard

Class D

75 feet or less

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 American National Standards Institute (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.

Grainger offers many plumbed, gravity-feed and portable eyewash/shower units to select from to help you 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 and 1926 standards? A: Copies of the standards are available for purchase from the Government Printing Office. They can also be downloaded free of charge from OSHA’s website.


29 CFR 1910

29 CFR 1926

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), All About OSHA, Publication number 3302-09R, 2014

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Remarks prepared for delivery by Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels Press Teleconference on Confined Spaces, May 1, 2015

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) Counts, 1993-2013.

(Rev. 7/2015)


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 information contained in this publication is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This publication is not a substitute for review of the current applicable government regulations and standards specific to your location and business activity, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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