Falls are widely regarded as the primary cause of workplace injuries and fatalities. Accordingly, on Nov. 17, OSHA took steps to reduce injuries and fatalities by updating its general industry Walking-Working Surfaces standards specific to slip, trip and fall hazards. The rule becomes effective on Jan. 17, 2017.
OSHA’s new fall guidelines
At their core, the new guidelines aim to allow employers to use fall protection methods that make the most sense for them, providing a wider range of options to keep employees safe in the workplace. When combined, these guidelines create a situation in which:
- Personal fall prevention strategies can be more easily customized based on specific environments.
- Construction professionals that work in multiple industries – which is fairly common – don’t have to worry about disparate rules across different settings.
- Rope descent systems can be used from up to 300 feet above lower levels.
- Employee training on fall protection and supporting equipment is mandatory.
- Body belts are prohibited as part of personal fall prevention strategies.
Implications of OSHA’s plans
OSHA expects the update to general industry Walking-Working Surfaces standards specific to fall hazards to have a major positive impact on worker protection. Current estimates expect the updated regulations to save 29 lives annually while preventing approximately 5,842 injuries each year. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health, pointed out that OSHA expects the final rule to help employers take advantage of modern technologies.
“The final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries,” said Michaels. “OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls.”