Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection: A Final Update

A sign warning people about trip hazards

On November 17, 2016, OSHA issued a final rule updating Walking-Working Surfaces standards and establishing Personal Fall Protection Systems requirements in the general industry category. OSHA uses the term “general industry” to refer to all industries not included in agriculture, construction, or maritime. The rule applies to general Walking-Working Surfaces standards dealing with slip, trip, and fall hazards, and also included a new section addressing Personal Fall Protection Systems standards that requires employers to follow specific requirements for using fall protection.

Because falls from heights and on work surfaces are among the leading causes of serious work-related injuries, OSHA issued this update to better protect general industry workers from these hazards. The rule becomes effective on January 17, 2017, and will affect approximately 112 million workers at seven million worksites. The rule covers general industry, which affects a wide range of workers, but it does not affect separate construction or agricultural standards.

The rule allows employers to select fall protection systems that work best for them, which OSHA has permitted in the construction industry since 1994. This will provide greater flexibility in choosing fall protection and also increase consistency between general industry and the construction industry, which will help employers and workers that operate in both areas. For example, general industry will now use an updated scaffold standard similar to OSHA’s construction scaffold standard as opposed to the former general industry standard that had become outdated. Other changes include allowing employers to use rope descent systems up to 300 feet above a lower level, prohibiting the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system, and requiring worker training on personal fall protection systems and fall equipment.

OSHA has provided a link to the full text of the rule, a fact sheet regarding the rule and the background that led to its update, and frequently asked questions about the rule, the changes, and implementation.

Ultimately, the purpose of the final rule is to update the outdated general industry Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems standards on slip, trip, and fall hazards. OSHA estimates these changes will prevent 29 worker deaths and 5,842 lost-workday injuries each year. Additionally, because the general industry standards are now more consistent with the construction industry standards, compliance will be easier and less costly. In terms of the overall goal, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels stated “[t]he final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries.”

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