In mid-November, OSHA published its long-awaited final rule on slips, trips and falls. The rule becomes effective on Jan. 17, 2017, and will affect approximately 112 million workers at seven million worksites.In 2014, falls, slips and trips accounted for 17 percent of all fatal work injuries, second only to transportation accidents. OSHA estimates that, on average, approximately 202,066 serious (lost-workday) injuries and 345 fatalities occur annually among workers directly affected by the final standard. It estimates the new rule will prevent 29 fatalities and more than 5,842 injuries annually.
The final rule updates OSHA’s general industry Walking Working Surfaces standards specific to slip, trip and fall hazards. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels said, “OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls.” The final rule on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems protects workers in general industry by updating and clarifying standards and adding training and inspection requirements.
Many industry experts believe the Trump administration will let the new rule stand, since it is fairly employer-friendly. The rule gives general industry employers greater flexibility in choosing a fall protection system. 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, 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.
Specifics of the Rule
The final rule replaces the outdated general industry scaffold standards with a requirement that employers comply with OSHA’s construction scaffold standards. The rule requires employers to protect workers from fall hazards along unprotected sides or edges that are at least four 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.
Employers can select from a variety of fall protection systems, including:
- Guardrail systems
- Safety net systems
- Personal fall arrest systems – Systems that stop a fall before the worker contacts a lower level. These consist 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 systems – Equipment and connectors that, when used with a body harness or body belt, allow 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 systems – An anchorage, anchorage connector, lanyard (or other means of connection) combined with body support to eliminate the possibility of a worker going over the unprotected edge or side of a walking-working surface.
- Ladder safety systems – A ladder safety system usually consists of a carrier, safety sleeve, lanyard, connectors and body harness designed to prevent a worker from falling off. Cages and wells are not considered ladder safety systems.
The key takeaway: Employers must provide additional protection to workers any time they are at a height of six feet or more (construction industry) or four feet or more (general industry) off the ground.
In addition to implementing OSHA’s new rule, employers can take additional common sense steps to reduce slip, trip and fall hazards. Regularly check your premises for the following:
- Are aisles and corridors clear and wide enough for easy passage? If not, remove clutter or obstructions.
- Can you clearly see any level changes, steps or obstructions? If not, upgrade lighting and/or install reflective safety striping.
- Are there electric cords snaking across areas where people walk? If so, additional outlets (including floor outlets) can reduce this hazard.