Issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in November, the new rules were first proposed in 2010. In the meantime, OSHA has issued enforced existing slip and fall rules for specific industries, especially targeting the construction industry, where many of these kinds of injuries occur.
OSHA asserted that the final rules will prevent 29 fatalities and more than 5,842 injuries each year. It also said the new regulations are expected to benefit approximately 112 million workers at seven million worksites throughout the United States.
The final rule increases consistency between enforcement in general, as well as in the construction industry, helping employers and workers, OSHA claimed.
“The final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries,” commented Dr. David Michaels, director of OSHA, in the final rules announcement.
“OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls,” he added.
The final rule’s most significant update allows employers to select the fall protection system that works best for them, choosing from a range of accepted options including personal fall protection systems, the agency said.
OSHA has required the widespread use of personal fall protection systems in construction since 1994, and the final rule adopts similar requirements for general industry employers.
As a result, the new requirements cover all walking-working services, such as floors, stairways, ladders, dockboards, roofs, scaffolds, and elevated work surfaces and walkways.
In addition, employers will be expected to train their employees about identifying and minimizing fall hazards, using fall protection systems and maintaining, inspecting and storing all kinds of fall protection equipment.
Other changes include allowing employers to use rope descent systems up to 300 feet above a lower level. However, OSHA now prohibits the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system.
Equally important to employers seeking to avoid trouble with OSHA enforcement, as well as tort lawsuits, is the requirement for employee training on personal fall protection systems and equipment.
Some portions of the new requirements have compliance dates that come after the Jan. 17 effective date. These include:
- Ensuring exposed workers are trained on fall hazards and the use of fall protection equipment (six months from the rules’ issuance – May 17)
- Inspecting and certifying permanent anchorages for rope descent systems (one year – Nov. 17.)
- Installing personal fall arrest or ladder safety systems on new fixed ladders over 24 feet and on replacement ladders/ladder sections. (two years – Nov. 17, 2019)
- Ensuring existing fixed ladders over 24 feet, including outdoor advertising structures, are equipped with a cage, well, personal fall arrest system, or ladder safety system (two years– Nov. 17, 2019)
- Replacing cages and wells (used as fall protection) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems on all fixed ladders over 24 feet (20 years – Nov. 17, 2036)
It’s important to note that OSHA specifically excludes work involving railroad rolling stock and motor vehicles, including trucks and busses due to challenges over its legal jurisdiction.
However, the agency disagrees with the view that current law regulating trucking and railroads blocks OSHA from acting in this area, and plans to issue rules regarding this kind of work in the future.
After they were first proposed six years ago, the new rules drew strong support from labor unions and opposition from employer groups.
Attorney Andi S. Kenney of the Jenner & Block law firm said she doesn’t believe Congress will overrule these changes using the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to block federal rules within 60 days of their adoption
“That action is risky because the CRA is such a blunt instrument,” Kinney observed. “The CRA can only be used to repeal a regulatory act in its entirety; it cannot be used to amend the regulation.”
To learn more, see: www.osha.gov/walking-working-surfaces/index.html.