The purpose of the OSHA’s final rule is to revise the outdated general industry Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems) Standards on the slip, trip, and fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker injuries and deaths. The Walking-Working Surfaces; Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems) Standard, 29 CFR 1910.22, became effective January 17, 2017. The final rule covers general industries (building management services, utilities, warehousing, chimney sweeping, outdoor advertising) and aims to prevent workplace slips, trips, and falls.
To ensure more consistency in the requirements across all industries, OSHA’s Final Rule revises the following general industry standards:
- Fall protection flexibility (§1910.28(b)): it eliminates the existing mandate to use guardrails as the primary fall protection method and gives employers the flexibility to determine what method will work best in their situation.
- Updated scaffold requirements (§1910.27(a)): it replaces the outdated general industry scaffold standards with the requirement that employers must comply with OSHA's construction scaffold standards.
- Phase-in of ladder safety systems or personal fall arrest systems on fixed ladders (§1910.28(b)(9)): it phases in over 20 years a requirement to equip fixed ladders (that extend over 24 feet) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems and prohibits the use of cages and wells, but requires that employers equip new ladders and replacement ladders/ladder sections with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems.
- Phase-out of the "qualified climber" exception in outdoor advertising (§1910.28(b)(10)): it phases out OSHA's directive allowing qualified climbers in outdoor advertising to climb fixed ladders on billboards without fall protection and phases in the requirement to equip fixed ladders (over 24 feet) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems.
- Rope descent systems and certification of anchorages (§1910.27(b)): it prohibits employers from using RDS at heights greater than 300 feet above grade unless they demonstrate that it is not feasible or creates a greater hazard to use any other system. It requires building owners to provide and employers to obtain the information that permanent anchorages used with RDS have been inspected, tested, maintained, and certified as capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds per employee attached.
- Personal fall protection system performance and use requirements (§1910.140): it allows employers to use personal fall protection systems (personal fall arrest, travel restraint, and positioning systems), adds requirements on the performance, inspection, use, and maintenance of the systems. It prohibits using body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system.
- Inspection of walking-working surfaces (§1910.22(d)): it requires that employers inspect walking-working surfaces regularly and correct, repair, or guard against hazardous conditions.
- Training (§1910.30): it adds requirements that employers ensure workers who use personal fall protection equipment and work in high hazard situations are trained and retrained if necessary.
How can you improve fall protection for your employees?Falls from heights and on the same-level working surfaces are among the leading causes of serious work-related injuries and fatalities. Injuries occur as a result of the loss of balance most likely in the following situations: a foot/a leg hits an obstacle while an upper body continues moving forward, or while stepping down to a lower level. Falls can also result from working on the unstable surfaces, from misuse of the fall protection equipment, and if floor holes and wall openings are not protected or guarded. Most common slip, trip, and fall injuries include strains, sprains, bruises, fractures, and concussion, and are 100% preventable.
The key measures to ensure fall protection are the following:
- All passageways, storerooms, service rooms, and floors must be kept in clean, dry condition;
- Aisles and passageways must be kept clear;
- Employers must provide fall protection in the following situations: hoist areas, runways, areas above dangerous equipment’s wall openings, repair pits, stairways, scaffolds, platforms;
- Guardrails/covers must be provided to protect employees from the hazards of falling into open pits, tanks, vats, ditches;
- Employers must protect workers from fall hazards along unprotected sides/edges that are 4 feet above a lower level. The open sides of platforms more than 4 feet above an adjacent floor or ground level must be guarded by a standard railing;
- Employers must train workers on fall hazards and fall protection in high hazard situations.
Here are some examples of what happens when employers or employees do not follow these recommendations:
- An oil slip leads to a shoulder injury and a $600,000 lawsuit. A driver climbed onto the step-deck trailer to readjust one of the chains. The step-deck trailer was "wet as it was raining and had hydraulic oil on it" which caused the driver to slip while holding onto the chain, making his body twist, his legs fall over the edge of the trailer, which caused a serious injury. Leaking hydraulic oil on the surface made it unsafe and a safety analysis of the truck would have prevented that slip.
- OSHA proposed $272,720 in fines against New York contractors for safety hazards after the inspection conducted in response to a complaint against fall hazards. "These employees were one trip, slip or misstep away from a deadly or disabling fall. … There is no excuse for an employer's failure to supply and ensure the use of legally required safeguards that can prevent injuries and save lives," said Kay Gee, OSHA's area director.