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OSHA's New Requirements for Workplace Fall Protection

Author: Gregory S. Narsh

April 2018
OSHA's New Requirements for Workplace Fall Protection

Published in the April 2018 MiMfg Magazine, the membership magazine of the Michigan Manufacturers Association. Reprinted here with permission.

Falls by workers, whether from elevated heights or from the same level, are among the leading causes of work-related injuries and deaths in U.S. workplaces. For this reason, coupled with advances in technology and decades of experience, OSHA issued a Final Rule in 2017 on walking and working surfaces and fall protection, which included several significant changes.

The Final Rule applies to all general industry workplaces and covers all walking-working surfaces, which include horizontal and vertical surfaces, such as floors, stairs, roofs, ladders, ramps, scaffolds, elevated walkways and fall protection systems. Specifically, the Final Rule updates general industry standards at 29 C.F.R. § 1910.121, et seq., and adds requirements for personal fall protection systems at 29 C.F.R. § 1910.140. It covers many different types of workers as well, including building management services, utilities, warehousing, window cleaning and outdoor advertising.

Michigan is one of about 25 states that have their own OSHA-approved plans, commonly referred to as MiOSHA. Although state plans may adopt standards that are more stringent than federal requirements, one of the key actions by MiOSHA was to eliminate most “Michiganspecific” requirements and conform to federal OSHA – and with most other states. This allows consistency for multistate employers.

Among the key goals of the Final Rule are:

  • Greater Flexibility for Employers. OSHA will no longer mandate the use of guardrails as the primary fall protection method and will allow employers to choose from accepted fall protection systems they believe will work best in a particular situation.
  • Updated Scaffold Requirements. The scaffold requirements currently used in the construction industry will be made applicable to the general industry.
  • Phase-In of Ladder Safety Systems. Over the next 20 years, OSHA will require personal fall arrest systems on fixed ladders over 24 feet and will prohibit the use of now traditional ladder cages and wells. The Final Rule will grandfather in cages and wells on existing ladders, but new ladders must comply with the updated requirements.
  • Rope Descent Systems (RDS). The Final Rule will codify previous OSHA guidance but will also prohibit (with limited exceptions) the use of RDS at heights greater than 300 feet and require greater documentation of inspection, testing, certification, etc., of RDS equipment.
  • Other. The Final Rule will add greater scrutiny of unprotected edges (generally, four feet or more above a lower working surface) and will require additional inspection and training efforts. In some cases, a written “fall protection plan” will be required.

Much of the Final Rule became effective in Michigan on 2/2/18. Other provisions will take effect as follows: Worker training (four months after the effective date or approximately 6/2/18); testing and certifying of permanent anchorages (10 months after or approximately 12/2/18); installation of personal fall arrest systems, ladder safety systems, cages or wells on existing fixed ladders (one year and 10 months after or approximately 12/2/19); installation of personal fall arrest systems or ladder safety systems on new fixed ladders (11/19/18); and installation of personal fall arrest systems or ladder safety systems on all fixed ladders (11/19/36).

The material in this publication was created as of the date set forth above and is based on laws, court decisions, administrative rulings and congressional materials that existed at that time, and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinions on specific facts. The information in this publication is not intended to create, and the transmission and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship.

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