Weekly Compliance Digest - OSHA Rule on Slips, Trips & Falls

June 03, 2016
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

In this edition of the Weekly Compliance Digest, we provide an update on OSHA’s plans for a final rule to prevent slips, trips and falls in general industry.

Walking Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems (Slips, Trips, and Fall Prevention)

What is it?

In 1990, OSHA published a proposed rule (55 FR 13360) addressing slip, trip and fall hazards, and establishing requirements for personal fall protection systems. Slips, trips and falls are among the leading causes of work-related injuries and fatalities in the U.S. In fact, OSHA reported that Fall Protection (1926.501) was the top most frequently cited standard for Fiscal 2015.

Since 1990, new technologies and procedures have become available to protect employees from slip, trip and fall hazards, OSHA says. The agency has been working to update these rules to reflect current technology. As a result of issues raised in comments to the 1990 proposed rule, OSHA published a notice to reopen the rule-making for comment on May 2, 2003.

Based on comments received on the 2003 notice, OSHA determined that the rule proposed in 1990 was out-of-date and did not reflect current industry practice or technology. OSHA published a second proposed rule on May 24, 2010, which reflected current information and increased consistency with other OSHA standards, the agency says. Hearings were held in January 2011 on the second proposed rule. Comments were analyzed in August 2011, but the final rule was never published.

However, two weeks ago, Safety+Health magazine reported that OSHA’s final rule on preventing slips, trips and falls is scheduled for publication in August, according to the spring regulatory agenda released on May 18.

Who is affected?

The rule applies to employers and industries covered by OSHA’s standards for general industry in 29 CFR part 1910. The majority of employees in general industry workplaces walk or work on level surfaces, such as floors, where slips, trips and falls happen, but they are not likely to result in major injuries or fatalities, OSHA says. However, there are many employees who work on ladders, scaffolds, towers, outdoor advertising signs, and similar surfaces where slips, trips or falls may result in serious injury or fatality.

The rule includes exceptions. Establishments in the following industries are excluded from the rule, because they may follow OSHA standards on slips, trips and falls that are specific to their own industry:

  • Agriculture
  • Construction
  • Maritime (longshoring, marine terminal, and shipyards)
  • Mining

Also excluded are employee tasks on surfaces that, due to location or operational status, fall outside of OSHA’s jurisdiction. For example, fall hazards associated to railroads or trucks traveling on highways are regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

What are the requirements?

Here are the key provisions from the rule:

  • The rule eliminates duplication and extensive specification of requirements, while emphasizing performance-based criteria. For example, the rule would incorporate the construction scaffolding standards, which would eliminate the need for most scaffold specifications in general industry.
  • A new section provides criteria for fall protection equipment. This new section would make the general industry standards consistent with existing construction and maritime standards regulating fall protection, as well as current industry practice, and gives clear standards on fall protection PPE to employers.

In addition, OSHA says that “compliance flexibility” would be provided for the mitigation of fall hazards. For example, the rule would provide options for compliance such as travel restraint systems and designated areas for fall protection when appropriate.

What is next?

While OSHA’s “Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions” lists projected dates and steps for all OSHA regulatory actions, it should be noted that those dates frequently are missed. However, the agency has targeted the final rule on Walking Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems as a priority before President Obama leaves office, according Safety+Health magazine.

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