On November 17, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule updating Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems) standards in general industries such as building management services, utilities, warehousing, retail, window cleaning, chimney sweeping and outdoor advertising.

As a leading cause of death and injury in the workplace, OSHA focuses heavily on slip, trip and fall protection. However, this attention has primarily targeted the construction and agriculture industries, while the same standards in general industries have lagged behind. The slip, trip and fall standards for general industries haven’t been updated since 1971. According to OSHA, on average, more than 202,000 serious, lost-workday injuries and roughly 350 fatalities occur annually among workers in general industries.  

The final rule updates and revises the outdated Walking-Working Surfaces and Person Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems) standards, making them more consistent with their construction and agriculture counterparts, which will hopefully aid employers and employees working in both industries. In addition, the new rule will update and revise information on rope descent systems, ladder safety requirements and training and inspection requirements.

The most significant update allows employers to select a fall protection system that best fits their needs from a list of OSHA-accepted options including, a guardrail, safety-net, personal fall arrest system, positioning system, travel-restraint system and ladder-safety system.

In a press release Dr. David Michael, Assistant Secretary of Labor, "The final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries. OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls."

OSHA estimates the updated standards will affect approximately 112 million workers at seven million worksites and prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 lost-workday injuries every year.

Most of the rule becomes effective on Jan. 17, 2017 (60 days after publication in the Federal Register). A number of provisions have delayed effective dates ranging from 6 months to 2 years. One notable outlier—provision on replacing cages and wells (used as fall protection) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems—will not be effective for 20 years.

For more information on the new rule visit https://www.osha.gov/walking-working-surfaces/index.html or read OSHA’s Fact Sheet at https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3903.pdf.