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New OSHA Rule Changes How Employers May Prevent Workers from Falling

The new OSHA rule, which took effect January 17, 2017, focuses on safety measures for workers who use equipment such as ladders and fall protection systems. This rule requires employers to train their employees on how to identify and mitigate fall hazards at their worksites.
A new OSHA rule helps prevent worksite falling accidents.

A new federal workplace safety rule aims to better prevent workers from slipping and falling on the job.

The final rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—which took effect January 17, 2017—updates the agency's "General Industry Walking Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Standards." It focuses the use of three commonly used types of worker safety equipment, including ladders, rope descent systems, and fall protection systems. The new OSHA rule also puts new guidelines in place for the protective gear worn by workers, and requires employers to train their workers on how to identify and minimize falling hazards.

The changes come just months after the government significantly raised the penalties for OSHA violations. The agency estimates that the new rule will "prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 lost-workday injuries every year."

Here are some key provisions of the new OSHA rule:

  • Employers can now choose among several types of fall protection systems to find the one that best fits their environment, rather than having to use a guardrail system (as OSHA previously required). Other acceptable options now include personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems, positioning systems, travel restraint systems, and ladder safety systems.
  • Rope descent systems—which are often used for tasks such as window washing tall buildings—are now subject to a 300-foot height limit, and building owners must confirm in writing that the permanent building anchorages used for them have been "tested, certified, and maintained as capable of supporting 5,000 pounds for each worker attached."
  • Ladders, which OSHA says account for 20 percent of all fatal injuries in general industry, must be inspected before each work shift for any defects that could cause injury.
  • Portable ladders must have rungs and steps that are slip resistant and be secured and stabilized when used on slippery surfaces. Multiple ladders may not be fastened together to extend their reach unless the ladders are explicitly designed for that use, and ladders must not be "moved, shifted, or extended while a worker is on them."
  • Workers who use fall protection systems and work in other "high-hazard" environments must be trained, and retrained when necessary, about the fall equipment and hazards. The training must be provided by a "qualified person" and in a language and vocabulary the workers understand.

If you have workers who use ladders, fall-protection equipment, and rope descent systems, make sure to look into the new OSHA rule as soon as possible and make any necessary updates to your equipment and training protocols. A third-party HR provider that is well versed in workplace safety programs and OSHA compliance can also be a valuable resource for your organization.


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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