Falls from heights and on the working surface are one of the biggest causes of work related injuries and fatalities. 991 workers died in the construction industry in 2016 – with most deaths (38.7%) occurring because of falls. Additionally, in the 2017 fiscal year, the Fall protection OSHA standard was the most violated rule.
OSHA drafted the new ‘Final Rule’ to provide a safer working environment for the workers and accommodate changes in the outdated existing standard.
The Final Rule
To ensure better protection of workers from slips, trips, and falls, OSHA has finally issued a new Working Walking Surface Standard. The new standard adds inspection and training requirements.
The Final rule updates on the outdated Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems) standards on slip, trip, and fall hazards. The old rule had proved unsuccessful in the prevention of worker injurie. The Final Rule applies to all general industry workplaces, and covers all working places – including horizontal and vertical surfaces e.g. floors, stairs, ramps, roofs, ladders, and elevated walkways.
The new rule also brings new general industry firms under its jurisdiction. The general industry firms now covered include:
- Building Management Services;
- Window Cleaning;
- Chimney Sweeping, and
- Outdoor Advertising.
The new rule eliminates several worker health hazards that contributed to fatalities, such as prohibiting the use of qualified ladders in advertising. Previously, workers climbed heights on fixed ladders without adequate fall protection and fell to their deaths.
Furthermore, fixed ladders (above 24 feet) are required to be equipped with a fall safety system that prevents workers from falling or to break their fall before they make contact with a lower surface. Additional body harnesses are provided in personal fall systems to distribute the maximum arresting force over a larger portion of a workers area, ensuring not to injure or hurt the worker. Body belts are now placed in the list of prohibited items.
The new standard also bans the use of cages and wells due to a wide spread realization about their inability to protect workers from falling, or prevent injuries.
Another significant addition to the new Final Rule for Working Walking Surfaces is the introduction of training and inspection clauses. Workers who use fall system protection and other equipment must be trained as per OSHA 10 Hour General Industry Training.
The training equips them in the course of action to be applied when facing fall and equipment hazards. Assessing danger before working at elevated heights or using the recommended equipment can make the difference between the occurrence and nonoccurrence of yet another on-work fatality.
The Final Rule includes a number of revisions to the existing general industry standards:
- Fall Protection Flexibility (1910.28(b))
- Updated Scaffold Requirements (1910.27(a))
- Phase In of Ladder Safety Systems and Personal Fall Arrest Systems on Fixed Ladders (1910.28(b)(9))
- Phase Out of the “Qualified Climber” Exception in Outdoor Advertising (1910.28(b)(10))
- Rope Descent Systems and Certification of Anchorages (1910.27(b))
- Personal Fall Protection System Performance and Use Requirements (1910.140)
- Inspection of Walking-Working Surfaces (1910.22(d))
- Training (1910.30)
Benefits of Final Rule
The Final Rule allows unprecedented flexibility for employers. The standard allows a time frame date for employers to comply with provisions related to ladder safety systems and personal fall arrest systems on fixed ladders.
Additionally, it gives employers the choice to use any one (or more) of the available fall safety systems in a particular area or activity. The new standard eliminates the existing rule of using 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. The available fall protection systems include:
- Guard-rail systems
- Safety Net systems
- Personal Fall Protection systems
- Travel Restraint systems
- Ladder safety systems
- Hand rails
Such an employer-friendly approach has been successful in the construction industry. In addition, employers will be able to use non-conventional fall protection in certain situations, such as designated areas on low-slope roofs.
The principle aim behind the introduction of a new standard is the cultivation of a safer work environment for the labor force, and to cut down on the loss of life and loss of work that effects the employees and the employers.
OSHA estimates that integration of the new standard will help save 29 fatalities from occurring. Prevention of injuries through better working conditions will also help employers save 5,842 lost-workdays.
The rule incorporates the industry’s best practices alongside advances in technology to produce the safest possible working environment for workers.