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Federal OSHA implemented a new rule on Jan. 17 that is aimed at reducing slip, trip and fall hazards in the workplace.

The revisions are aimed at tackling one of the main causes of worker deaths and injuries in American workplaces by applying rules designed for the construction and manufacturing sectors to other general industries.

They add requirements for personal fall protection systems and eliminate existing mandates to use guardrails as a primary fall protection method. They also allow employers to choose from accepted fall protection systems which type they want to use.

The new standard will prevent some 30 workplace deaths and more than 5,800 injuries every year, OSHA says.

While the rules will have little impact on construction and manufacturing, management in other industries needs to bone up on the rules to ensure companies are in compliance.

The most significant update to the rules 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 final 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.

 

OSHA says 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.

 

Key provisions

Fall protection

An employer’s obligation to provide fall protection is triggered when employees work at least four feet above a lower level.

The final rule requires employers to select one or more of these options, depending on the particular situation or activity:

  • Guardrail system
  • Safety net system
  • Personal fall arrest system (body belts now prohibited)
  • Positioning system
  • Travel restraint system
  • Ladder safety system (does not include cages or wells)
  • Handrails
  • Designated areas (only permitted on low-slope roofs)

 

The rule establishes fall protection options and other requirements for some specific situations like hoist areas, runways, wall openings, repair pits, and stairways.

 

Ladder safety

The final rule sets out general ladder safety requirements applicable to fixed ladders, portable ladders, and mobile ladder stands and platforms.

Employers must ensure that:

  • Ladders are capable of supporting at least the maximum intended load, i.e., the total weight and force of anticipated employees and equipment or other materials.
  • Mobile ladder stands and platforms are capable of supporting four times the maximum intended load.

 

Ladders must be inspected before initial use during a work shift, and as necessary, to identify visible defects that could cause worker injuries.

 

Training

Employers must ensure training of workers who use personal fall protection or work in dangerous circumstances, including working on loading docks. Workers must be trained by a “qualified person,” and the training must be understandable to employees and cover:

  • Identification of fall hazards.
  • Proper use of personal fall protection systems.
  • Maintenance, inspection, and storage of equipment or systems used for fall protection.

 

Employers must also ensure the retraining of workers when they have reason to believe workers lack the required comprehension and skill.