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OSHA issues final rule on walking/working surfaces, fall protection

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Washington – OSHA has released a long-awaited update to its standard on walking/working surfaces, issuing a final rule that addresses slips, trips and falls in the workplace and establishes employer requirements for the use of personal fall protection systems.

The agency estimates that the rule, scheduled to go into effect Jan. 17, will prevent 29 fatalities and more than 5,842 lost-workday injuries each year.

“The final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries,” OSHA administrator David Michaels said in a Nov. 17 press release. “OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls.”

According to OSHA, the most significant update to the rule allows employers to choose the fall protection system that is most effective for them and based on a variety of acceptable options, including the use of personal fall protection systems. The agency has allowed the use of personal fall protection systems in construction since 1994, and the final rule adopts similar requirements for general industry.

The rule also allows employers to:

  • Use rope descent systems up to 300 feet above a lower level
  • Prohibit the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system
  • Require worker training on personal fall protection systems and other equipment designed for falls

The final rule does not change construction or agricultural standards, and OSHA stated that it tried to align fall protection requirements for general industry “as much as possible” with its requirements for construction because many employers perform both types of activities.

The final rule for general industry updates requirements for ladders, stairs, dockboards, and fall and falling object protection.

OSHA first issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on the rule in 1990, followed by a second notice in 2010.

In October, during the National Safety Council Congress & Expo in Anaheim, CA, Michaels said the agency would publish a final rule before he steps down from the agency after more than seven years to return to George Washington University in Washington as professor of environmental and occupational health.

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