On November 18, 2016, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) issued its 513-page final rule modifying its requirements for walking-working surfaces (WWS), fall prevention in general industry, and the use of personal fall protection systems, 29 CFR Part 1910, Subparts D and I. The purpose of the rule is to update existing requirements to harmonize more fully with construction fall protection requirements, and align the references to consensus standards for fall protection equipment, stairways and other specifications with more correct versions of those rules. It also provides greater flexibility to employers in controlling hazards and protecting workers.
The final rule covers everything in under general industry jurisdiction: from office areas, to warehouse space, manufacturing facilities at ready mix and precast concrete plants and other material suppliers locations, loading areas in work or truck yard, some electrical and other utility work, and even routine work performed on sloped and flat roofs by contractors to maintain HVAC systems, skylights, antenna and communications equipment, or other perform other non-construction work on structures at a height.
SOME EXTENDED EFFECTIVE DATES
The new rules took effect, for the most part, on January 17, 2017, but some portions of the standard, such as worker training and modification of fixed ladders, have extended effective dates and for full replacement of fixed ladders can be grandfathered until 2036. The agency elected not to increase the general industry fall distance to 6-feet, which is the basic construction requirement, and kept the 4-foot trigger. However, fall protection may still be required at lower heights in both general industry and construction, when there is a potential for injury when falling onto machinery or hazardous surfaces.
OSHA’s original standard only recognized use of guardrails and barriers as primary methods of protection and did not directly permit use of personal fall protection systems, except in limited circumstances. That’s all changed and employers will have new flexibility to adapt to each unique situation and provide the feasible and acceptable protections within a range of options: guardrails, railing systems, positioning systems, harness and lanyard systems, travel restraints, safety nets, written fall protection plans (where use of fall protection equipment is not feasible), and even through the use of “designated areas” (for low slope roofs where workers will remain at least 15 feet from the edge at all times).
INSPECTION OF WWS
The rule requires inspection of these WWS “regularly and as necessary” while ladders and scaffolds must be inspected each shift before use, and more often as needed. It is a best practice to document such inspections, in order to demonstrate compliance. Other general requirements for walking/working surfaces include mandates to keep areas clean, orderly sanitary and dry, free of protrusions and slip hazards such as grease or ice. WWS just be able to support the maximum intended load, and any structural repairs must be done by or under the supervision of a “qualified person.” The employer must correct or repair hazardous conditions on the WWS before workers use it again, or else guard the area to prevent use until the hazards are corrected.
PROTECTION ABOVE 4 FEET
The rule requires employers to protect workers from fall hazards along unprotected sides or edges that are at least 4 feet above a lower level, and also has specific design requirements for both fixed and portable ladders, stairway systems of all types, scaffolds, fixed and portable dockboards, manhole steps and step bolts, outdoor billboards, rope descent systems used by window washers and other trades, and other equipment that presents workers with a fall hazard.
One issue that was somewhat controversial was whether OSHA would continue its exemption from the standard for “rolling stock” and motor vehicles (such as flat bed trucks and tractor-trailers). OSHA’s definition of “walking-working surface” in the current construction rule does not include rolling stock and motor vehicles (1926.500(b)). OSHA issued a general industry interpretative letter in the 1980s which stated that it would not enforce the rule for these types of equipment. That exception will continue, for now at least, but it is still possible for OSHA to cite under the General Duty Clause, if the fall was a recognized hazard, and there was a feasible method of providing protection for the worker accessing the mobile equipment or rolling stock (such as a tie-off rack).
SCAFFOLD SYSTEMS AND LADDERS
Scaffold systems must now align with the requirements for scaffolds in OSHA’s construction standard, 29 CFR Part 1926, Subpart L. The rule requires employers to protect workers from falling off fixed and portable ladders as well as mobile ladder stands and platforms. The rule’s design specifications do not apply to ladders used in emergency operations (such as fire department and EMT equipment) or ladders that are an integral part of or designed into a machine or piece of equipment. Ladders with structural or other defects must be immediately tagged as “Dangerous: Do Not Use” or similar language, and removed from service until repaired or replaced. The rule also specifies employee work practices for climbing ladders.
Finally, the standard includes training requirements covering the new rule, which take effect on May 17, 2017. Employers must have a qualified person provide training, although interactive computer training will be permitted as long as it was developed and presented through a qualified person. Employers must ensure that workers who use personal fall protection and work in specified high hazard situations are trained and retrained as necessary, about fall and equipment hazards, including the use, inspection and maintenance of fall protection systems. The training should be documented, to demonstrate compliance, and it must be provided in a language and vocabulary that the worker will understand.
WILL IT LAST?
The standard is, overall, a vast improvement over the 1971 version and offers employers long-overdue flexibility in designing the best approach to protect workers from fall hazards. The question is: Will it stick? Congress is considering legislation allowing it to rescind “en masse” regulations that were enacted by the Obama Administration as of June 2016. Whether this rule will be captured and rescinded along with some other recent OSHA final rules remains to be seen. ■
About the Author: Adele L. Abrams, Esq., CMSP, is an attorney and safety professional who is president of the Law Office of Adele L. Abrams PC, a nine-attorney firm that represents employees in OSHA and MSHA matters nationwide. The firm also provides occupational safety and health consultation, training, and auditing services. For more information, visit www.safety-law.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions – January 2017
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