Don’t Take the Fall: OSHA Updated its Walking-Working Surfaces Standard

OSHA recently published its Final Rule to update and align its General Industry Walking-Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Standards.  The final rule, published in the Federal Register November 18, 2016, and in effect as of January 17, 2017, includes a number of revisions to the existing general industry standards.  The final rule:

  • Provides compliance flexibility for employers by increasing the fall protection options employers may use;
  • Provides greater consistency between OSHA's general industry and construction standards, which makes compliance easier for employers who perform both general industry and construction activities;
  • Incorporates advances in technology, industry best practices, and national consensus standards, which provide employers with effective and cost-efficient measures to protect workers;
  • Replaces outdated specification requirements with performance-based language and criteria, which provides greater flexibility and makes the final rule easier for employers and workers to understand and follow.

The new Walking-Working Surfaces rule is expected to impact more than 100 million US workers.  Injuries from “falls” cause thousands of worker fatalities in the U.S. each year, and given the number of citations pertaining to fall protection, scaffolding, and ladders, it is not surprising that OSHA has updated its rules accordingly. 

OSHA recently released its annual list of the year’s most-cited safety and health violations, which it assembles based on the results of more than 30,000 OSHA workplace inspections.  Of the top hazards cited, “Fall Protection” has been the leading offender in the past three years; “Scaffolding” and “Ladders” also regularly appear in the top 10 most cited regulations. 

While the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was a bipartisan effort, signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, some regulatory efforts perceived to restrict employers’ ability to conduct business have been politicized in the past.  President Trump has denounced “wasteful and unnecessary” over-regulation that “kills jobs”, and he recently stated that two regulations must be withdrawn for every new federal regulation that is passed.  It remains to be seen whether this suspicion of “over-regulation” will impact this and other safety regulations.

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