In November of 2016, the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) published a revised Subpart D Walking -Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Rule for General Industry with an effective date for most requirements of January 17, 2017. Fall from heights are among the leading causes of serious work- related injuries and deaths. On average, OSHA estimates that approximately 200,000 serious injuries and 345 fatalities occur among workers directly affected by falls from heights and on the same level. Prior to OSHA’s revision, industries have relied on construction fall protection standards (1926 Subparts L and M) as guidance.
The rule requires employers to protect workers from fall hazards along unprotected sides or edges that are at least 4 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. The new rule provides greater flexibility in choosing a fall protection system as it eliminates the existing requirement to use guardrails as a primary fall protection method. It allows employers to choose from accepted fall protection systems that they believe will work best in their particular situation. Most of the rule has been aligned with OSHA’s construction standard, easing compliance for employers who perform both type of activities. It also covers Rope decent systems (RDS) and certification of anchorages, updated scaffolding requirements, inspection of walking-working surfaces, phase in of ladder safety systems or personal fall arrest systems on fixed ladders, and employee training requirements. The final rule uses performance-based language whenever possible to give employers greater compliance flexibility and incorporates plain language to make the rule easier to understand and follow.
Most of the rule became effective January 17, 2017, but some provisions have delayed effective dates, including:
- Ensuring exposed workers are trained on fall hazards (May 17, 2017),
- Ensuring workers who use equipment covered by the final rule are trained (May 17, 2017),
- Inspecting and certifying permanent anchorages for rope descent systems (November 20, 2017),
- Installing personal fall arrest or ladder safety systems on new fixed ladders over 24 feet and on replacement ladders/ladder sections, including fixed ladders on outdoor advertising structures (November 19, 2018),
- Ensuring existing fixed ladders over 24 feet, including those on outdoor advertising structures, are equipped with a cage, well, personal fall arrest system, or ladder safety system (November 19, 2018), and
- Replacing cages and wells (used as fall protection) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems on all fixed ladders over 24 feet (November 18, 2036).
For further information see: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3903