OSHA’s Walking and Working Surfaces Final Rule Has Arrived

Last fall, with the uncertainty of a Presidential election looming, OSHA made a push to release some long-awaited rulemaking (historically, Democrat administrations are friendlier to new regulation than Republican). One of these rules was General Industry’s Walking and Working Surface regulation. For decades, maintenance companies, manufacturers, warehousing companies, and others that fall under the General Industry regulations have looked for some guidance on protecting their workers from fall hazards that simply did not exist in 29 CFR 1910. Forward thinking companies adopted strategies set forth in the construction and/or maritime standards, but not everybody was that proactive. A large part to the new rule addresses this glaring omission.

Why was this necessary to address?

It’s easy to see why fall protection rules are needed in things like construction. People work on half-finished structures that are constantly changing. The statistics agree. Falls have been the leading cause of death in construction for years. However, data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that this phenomenon is not isolated to just one industry. In fact, each year there are 261 fatal falls to a lower level in General Industry and more than 48,000 lost-workday injuries from falls to a lower level. The impact this has on workers and the cost to employers is astounding. Add in another 125,000 annual incidents that occurred with slips, trips, and falls on the same level and it’s clear why these new rules were necessary.

What’s New?

Fall Protection Compliance

The most significant difference between this rule and the old Walking/Working Surface rule is the inclusion of different ways with which to achieve fall protection compliance. Rather than just pointing employers to guardrails as the previous version does, the new rule recognizes the use of personal fall protection, designated areas, and/or safety nets as well. This gives the employer flexibility to determine what the best method is for them, because when it comes to fall protection, one size definitely does not fit all.

For those that were already looking ahead and utilizing fall protection standards from other industries, the positive is that you may already be compliant. OSHA didn’t re-invent the wheel here. In fact, you will find that much of the language in the new rule mirrors what you will find in the regulations you’ve been voluntarily following.

Inspections

Another change is the requirement to perform inspections of your walking and working surfaces to ensure that they are safe. While OSHA doesn’t necessarily lay out a specific inspection to be performed or exactly how often they should be done, an employer must conduct them “regularly” and “as necessary” to ensure safe conditions. This puts the onus on the employer to determine exactly what that timeframe is.

Ladders

If you’ve been through any ladder safety training, you’ve probably heard that in order to be compliant you must maintain 3-points of contact. With the new rule, OSHA has codified this “best practice”. Employers are now required to ensure that their employees are climbing all ladders in this fashion. In addition, OSHA will now be requiring ladder safety devices or personnel fall protection on fixed ladders, so if you have fixed ladders with cages or wells, get ready to modify them (don’t worry, you have about 20 years to comply).

Dockboards

Have a loading dock? OSHA now requires that a means is installed to prevent equipment from running over the edge (such as a curb). In this section, OSHA also required the use of wheel chocks or other means of stopping vehicles from moving while a dock plate is on it.

Training

This is new. Those familiar with fall protection regulations in other industries, however, may recognize the need to train anybody who uses any type of fall protection. Training is not just how to put on a harness and at what height you’re required to utilize fall protection (still 4’ by the way), it also must teach users to be able to recognize hazards and to know what to do when hazards are encountered.

Personal Protective Equipment

This section was added to bring the General Industry standard into alignment with other standards so, again, if you’re familiar with construction or maritime rules for fall protection, none of this should be surprising. Knowing that you need a harness and lanyard isn’t enough. The employer and user must know how to select, use, test, inspect, and maintain the equipment.

What’s Gone?

Scaffolding. OSHA removed all scaffold references and refers users to the construction regulations for guidance.

When Does This Need to Happen?

For the most part, now, with a few exceptions:

By May 17th of this year, all employees must be trained on fall and equipment hazards, by November 20th of this year all anchor points must be certified, by November 19 of next year all existing fixed ladders must have cage, wells, ladder safety systems, or personal fall arrest systems, and new fixed

ladders must have either a ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system, and by November 18 or 2036 ALL fixed ladders must have a ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system.

So, for a few aspects of this rule, there’s time. For others, the deadline just passed, so ensure you are up to speed as soon as possible. Remember, there are very few employers, if any, to which this new rule won’t apply. Don’t assume you’re compliant. Review the new regulation and make sure you are not leaving yourself open to OSHA violations and, more importantly, you are not exposing your employees to potentially fatal hazards.