Falls from heights and on the same level (a working surface) are among the leading causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. OSHA has issued a final rule on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems to better protect workers in general industry from these hazards by updating and clarifying standards and adding training and inspection requirements.
The rule affects a wide range of workers, from painters to warehouse workers. It does not change construction or agricultural standards.
The rule incorporates advances in technology, industry best practices, and national consensus standards to provide effective and cost-efficient worker protection. Specifically, it updates general industry standards addressing slip, trip, and fall hazards (subpart D), and adds requirements for personal fall protection systems (subpart I).
OSHA estimates that these changes will prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 lost-workday injuries every year.
Benefits to Employers
The rule benefits employers by providing greater flexibility in choosing a fall protection system. For example, it eliminates the existing mandate to use guardrails as a primary fall protection method and allows employers to choose from accepted fall protection systems they believe will work best in a particular situation – an approach that has been successful in the construction industry since 1994. In addition, employers will be able to use non-conventional fall protection in certain situations, such as designated areas on low-slope roofs.
As much as possible, OSHA aligned fall protection requirements for general industry with those for construction, easing compliance for employers who perform both types of activities.
For example, the final rule replaces the outdated general industry scaffold standards with a requirement that employers comply with OSHA’s construction scaffold standards.
Also, the rule phases out a 1993 exception for the outdoor advertising industry that allows “qualified climbers” to forego fall protection. The final rule phases in the fixed ladder fall protection requirements for employers in outdoor advertising.
- Most of the rule had become effective January 17, 2017, but some provisions have delayed effective dates, including:
- Ensured exposed workers are trained on fall hazards (May 17, 2017),
- Ensured workers who use equipment covered by the final rule are trained (May 17, 2017),
- Inspected and certified permanent anchorages for rope descent systems (November 20, 2017),
- Installing personal fall arrest or ladder safety systems on new fixed ladders over 24 feet and on replacement ladders/ladder sections, including fixed ladders on outdoor advertising structures (November 19, 2018),
- Ensuring existing fixed ladders over 24 feet, including those on outdoor advertising structures, are equipped with a cage, well, personal fall arrest system, or ladder safety system (November 19, 2018), and
- Replacing cages and wells (used as fall protection) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems on all fixed ladders over 24 feet (November 18, 2036).
About the Rule
The rule requires employers to protect workers from fall hazards along unprotected sides or edges that are at least 4 feet above a lower level. It also sets requirements for fall protection in specific situations, such as hoist areas, runways, areas above dangerous equipment, wall openings, repair pits, stairways, scaffolds, and slaughtering platforms. And it establishes requirements for the performance, inspection, use, and maintenance of personal fall protection systems. OSHA defines fall protection as “any equipment, device, or system that prevents a worker from falling from an elevation or mitigates the effect of such a fall.”
Under the final rule, employers may choose from the following fall protection options:
- Guardrail System – A barrier erected along an unprotected or exposed side, edge, or other area of a walking-working surface to prevent workers from falling to a lower level.
- Safety Net System – A horizontal or semi-horizontal, cantilever-style barrier that uses a netting system to stop falling workers before they make contact with a lower level or obstruction.
- Personal Fall Arrest System – A system that arrests/stops a fall before the worker contacts a lower level. Consists of a body harness, anchorage, and connector, and may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or a suitable combination. Like OSHA’s construction standards, the final rule prohibits the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system.
- Positioning System – A system of equipment and connectors that, when used with a body harness or body belt, allows a worker to be supported on an elevated vertical surface, such as a wall or window sill, and work with both hands free.
- Travel Restraint System – A combination of an anchorage, anchorage connector, lanyard (or other means of connection), and body support to eliminate the possibility of a worker going over the unprotected edge or side of a walking-working surface.
- Ladder Safety System – A system attached to a fixed ladder designed to eliminate or reduce the possibility of a worker falling off the ladder. A ladder safety system usually consists of a carrier, safety sleeve, lanyard, connectors, and body harness. Cages and wells are not considered ladder safety systems.
Rope Descent Systems
The rule codifies a 1991 OSHA memorandum that permits employers to use Rope Descent Systems (RDS), which consist of a roof anchorage, support rope, descent device, carabiners or shackles, and a chair or seat board. These systems are widely used throughout the country to perform elevated work, such as window washing. The rule adds a 300-foot height limit for the use of RDS. It also requires building owners to affirm in writing that permanent building anchorages used for RDS have been tested, certified, and maintained as capable of supporting 5,000 pounds for each worker attached. This mirrors the requirement in OSHA’s Powered Platforms standard.
The rule adds a requirement that employers ensure workers who use personal fall protection and work in other specified high hazard situations are trained, and retrained as necessary, about fall and equipment hazards, including fall protection systems. A qualified person must train these workers to correctly: identify and minimize fall hazards; use personal fall protection systems and rope descent systems; and maintain, inspect, and store equipment or systems used for fall protection. When there is a change in workplace operations or equipment, or the employer believes that a worker would benefit from additional training based on a lack of knowledge or skill, then the worker must be retrained. The training must be provided in a language and vocabulary that workers understand.
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