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Final Rule Update – General Industry Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has issued the “Final Rule to Update General Industry Walking-Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Standards.”

It is well recognized that falls on the same level and from heights are a leading cause of workplace injuries and deaths.  OSHA has issued this final rule to help protect workers in general industry from these hazards by updating standards.  The rule also requires additional inspection and training.

This final rule regulates all general industry workplaces.  It includes all walking and working surfaces.  This includes both horizontal and vertical work surfaces.  Examples include elevated walkways, fall protection systems, scaffolds, stairs, ladders, roofs, ramps and floors.

It should be noted that while this rule applies to a broad range of workers, it does not change agricultural or construction standards.

By implementing this rule change, OSHA estimates 29 fatalities and 5,842 lost workday injuries will be prevented every year.  The rule is intended to provide worker protection that is both cost efficient and effective.  The rule reflects national consensus, advances in technology and industry best practices. It adds requirements for personal fall protection systems and general industry standards for slip, trip and fall hazards.  Current standards were adopted by OSHA in 1971 and prior to the new final rule, they had not been updated.

Rule Will Benefit Employers and Employees

The rule improves worker safety in many ways.  It requires that fixed ladders over 24 feet have a ladder safety or fall protection system.  This is meant to prevent workers from falling to another level.  The rule also eliminates body belts, requiring body harnesses instead.  This distributes any fall arrest forces throughout a larger area of a worker’s body in the event of a fall.  It is also in compliance with OSHA’s construction site regulations.  The rule also requires workers be trained in the use of the fall protection equipment before they work at elevated heights.  This also includes retraining if necessary. For fall protection systems, the rule also adds requirements for maintenance, use, performance and inspection of the systems.

The rule also phases out the so-called “qualified climber” exception in outdoor advertising.  Previously qualified climbers in outdoor advertising were allowed to climb fixed ladders on outdoor advertising without fall protection.  The rule phases in the requirements for fixed ladders that are over 24 feet tall for outdoor advertising that are the same as other fixed ladders over 24 feet tall.  In short, the prior exceptions for outdoor advertising are being eliminated.  Employers will be given two years to comply with these standards.

Not only will this rule benefit employees and their safety, it also provides benefits to employers.  It changes general industry fall protection requirements so they are consistent with those requirements for the construction industry.  This will make it easier for employers that perform both activities to remain in compliance.  One example is that the rule replaces the general industry scaffold requirements with those of the construction industry.

The rule also allows employers greater flexibility in selecting a fall protection system.  Rather than mandating guard rails, employers will be allowed to select the fall protection they believe will work best under the circumstances.  OSHA found that this has worked well in the construction industry since 1994.  In some circumstances, employers will be allowed to use fall protection systems that are non-conventional.  The rule also provides additional flexibility by replacing specification requirements that are outdated with language and criteria that are performance based.

When Will the New Rule Go Into Effect?

Most of the rule will go into effect two months days after it is published in the Federal Register.  Some parts of the rule will have delayed effective dates.  Portions that will be delayed six months include a requirement that workers are trained on equipment covered by the rule and a requirement that exposed workers receive training on fall hazards.  There will be a one year delay in the requirement for inspection and certification of “permanent anchorages for rope descent systems.”  A two year delay will be in place on the requirement that all existing fixed ladders over 24 feet have a ladder safety system, well, cage or personal fail arrest system and that all new fixed ladders over 24 feet have a personal fall arrest system or a ladder safety system.  There will be a 20 year delay in the requirement that on fixed ladders over 24 feet, all cages and wells be replaced with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems.

How Will This Affect States?

States with existing plans that have previously been OSHA approved will be given six months to adopt standards that are, at a minimum, as effective as Federal standards.  While many states use standards identical to Federal OSHA standards, some states have different or stricter requirements.

What Resources Are Available To Employers?

OSHA has a program available to assist employers in complying with its rules.  OSHA has Compliance Assistance Specialists that are available, as well as training programs, publications and websites.  Many of these programs are aimed at small and mid-sized employers.

OSHA also has an On-site Construction Program.  This program provides small businesses with professional, individualized help at no cost. This service is confidential and separate from enforcement programs of both federal and state OSHA enforcement programs.  It is provided by consultants from universities or state agencies.  According to OSHA, in FY 2015, 27,800 free visits to small and medium sized business were conducted by the On-site Consultation Program.

What Resources Are Available to Employees?

If you are an employee, and you don’t believe your employer is providing proper fall protection, you can contact OSHA to file a complaint.  This can result in an inspection of your workplace.

Contact Us To Discuss Your Needs

If you have been injured at work, you may have a claim which would compensate you for your injuries. Contact the determined worker’s compensation attorney in Atlanta at the Bader Law Firm, LLC for a consultation to discuss your case.  There is no fee unless we win your case.

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