Summary of new OSHA fall protection rules affecting walking-working surfaces and personal protective equipment


THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR Occupational Safety and Health administration 29 CFR, Part 1910 [Docket No. OSHA–2007–0072] RIN 1218-AB80

Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems)

· OSHA has published its revising and updating general industry standards on walking-working surfaces to prevent and reduce workplace falls, as well as other injuries and fatalities associated with window cleaning and suspended stage work.

·      Significant changes are included for building owners/property managers in reference to fall protection. Building owners must identify, inspect, test, certify, and maintain anchorages for both new and existing buildings and re-certify, as necessary (at least every 10 years).

·      The regulation includes new provisions addressing fixed ladders, rope descent systems and fall protection systems; including anchor inspection, certification and responsibilities.

The rule becomes effective on January 17, 2017. Some date requirements in the final rule have compliance dates after the effective date.

In developing this final rule, OSHA determined that identifying, inspecting, testing, certifying, and maintaining anchorages and providing information about the anchorages must be the responsibility of building owners. OSHA stated in their published preamble of the regulations that only when building owners take responsibility for anchorages and provide written information to employers and contractors, can there be adequate assurance that workers will be safe when they use RDS (Rope Descent Systems). Final paragraph (b)(1)(ii) establishes a new provision that requires employers to ensure that no employee uses any anchorage before their employer obtains written information from the building owner.

“In other words, the final rule requires that employers ensure no employee uses an RDS until the employer obtains written information that the building owner has identified, tested, certified, and maintained each anchorage, so it is capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds in any direction for each worker attached. The final rule also requires that the employer keep the written Information from the building owner for the duration of the job. “

The final rule now emphasizes that building owners must provide assurance information to service contractors or employers that anchor systems have been inspected by a ‘‘qualified’’ person who has conducted the inspection and provided certification. The final rule defines “qualified” as: “a person who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience has successfully demonstrated the ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work, or the project” (§ 1910.21(b)).

The final rule, similar to the construction scaffold rules, defines “scaffold” as: “a temporary elevated or suspended platform and its supporting structure, including anchorage points, used to support employees, equipment, materials, and other items’’. OSHA is proposing that general industry comply with the construction industry’s scaffold standards in 29 CFR 1926(L). By requiring employers in general industry comply with the construction scaffold standards, consistency will be achieved, as well as a decrease in any confusion that would likely arise if the standards were different between these two industries.

OSHA also acknowledges that its powered platforms standard contains a requirement similar to the final rule (§ 1910.66(c)(4)). Also, the I–14.1–2001 standard requires that employers (i.e.:  window cleaning contractors) and building owners not allow suspended work to occur unless the building owner provides, identifies and certifies anchorages (Section 3.9).

“Under the final rule, employers are not to allow workers to attach to an anchorage and begin work if the employer did not receive written certification that the anchorage is capable of supporting 5,000 pounds. Specifically, final paragraph (b)(1)(ii) prohibits employers, when there are no certified anchorages, from ‘‘making do’’ or attaching RDS to alternative structures, making the assumption that these structures are capable of supporting 5,000 pounds. “

Finally, OSHA believes that the written information on anchorages that building owners must provide to employers will be helpful for employers throughout the job. Employers can use the information to keep workers continuously informed about which anchorages have proper certification. The information will also be helpful if there are work shift-related changes in personnel, if the employer brings new workers to the job, or if there is a change in site supervisors. Therefore, the final rule is requiring employers to retain the written information on anchorages they obtained from building owners for the duration of the job at that building. In final paragraph (b)(1)(iii), OSHA provides employers and building owners with additional time to implement the requirements in final paragraphs (b)(1)(i) and (ii). The final rule gives employers and building owners one year from November 18, 2016 to meet the new requirements in final paragraphs (b)(1)(i) and (ii). This means that building owners must identify, inspect, test, certify, and maintain each anchorage by the compliance date.

The new standard also recognized that it has been 23 years since OSHA’s 1991 Patricia Clarke memorandum allowed the use of RDS, provided they have ‘‘sound anchorages”. However, the agency also addressed other important concerns when developing the final rule; Namely proper rigging including a maximum height for RDS, the use of suction cups as local stabilization and tool lanyards to prevent public injury.

OSHA retained the RDS height limit in the final rule because the I–14.1–2001 national consensus standard included the same limit. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved the I–14.1–2001 standard, and industry widely uses it. OSHA believes the national consensus standard reflects industry best practices.

OSHA believes proper rigging of RDS equipment is essential to ensure that the system is safe for workers to use. To ensure proper RDS rigging and safe use, OSHA believes that employers also must take into consideration and emphasize the specific conditions present. For example, OSHA believes that giving particular emphasis to providing tiebacks when using counter weights, cornice hooks, or similar non-permanent anchorages is an essential aspect of proper rigging and necessary to ensure safe work.

To illustrate, when tiebacks and anchorages are not perpendicular to the building face, it may be necessary for worker safety for employers to install opposing tiebacks to support and firmly secure the RDS, have at least a 30-degree sag angle for opposing tiebacks, or ensure that no angle exists on single tiebacks.

Final paragraph (b)(2)(vi), like proposed paragraph (b)(2)(v) and the 1991 RDS memorandum, requires that each worker uses a separate, independent personal fall arrest system, when using an RDS.

Final § 1910.140(b) defines “personal fall arrest system” as: “a system used to arrest an employee in a fall from a walking-working surface”.  A personal fall arrest system consists of at least an anchorage, connector, and a body harness, but also may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or suitable combination of these devices (§ 1910.140(b)).

The final rule requires that the personal fall arrest system meets the requirements in 29 CFR part 1910, sub-part I, particularly final § 1910.140. This final rule is consistent with other existing OSHA standards (e.g.: § 1910.66(j), Powered Platforms for Building Maintenance, Personal Fall Protection; § 1926.451(g), Scaffolds, Fall Protection), as well as the I–14.1 consensus standard (Section 5.7.6).

“OSHA believes the provision is essential to protect workers from injury or death if a fall occurs. As the 1991 RDS memorandum mentions, requiring workers to use personal fall arrest systems that are completely independent of RDS ensures that any failure of the RDS ( e.g.:  main friction device, seat board, support line, anchorage) does not affect the ability of the fall arrest system to quickly stop the worker from falling to a lower level. “

OSHA believes that suction cups are widely used and accepted by employers and workers who use RDS, (even by those employers who doubt the need for stabilization) because the devices have a track record of being effective and economical. As far back as July 31, 1991, OSHA allowed employers to use suction cups to meet the stabilization requirement in the 1991 RDS memorandum. OSHA notes that a review of the rule-making record failed to show that suction cups cause anything more than a few isolated cases of window breakage.

OSHA believes the performance-based approach in the final rule assures that employers have maximum flexibility in meeting the requirement to secure equipment (e.g.: tools, squeegees, buckets) that workers use. Many different types of tool lanyards and similar methods are currently available to secure equipment. Tool lanyards and other securing equipment are available in many types, lengths, and load capacities. A worker can secure the equipment at various points, including the worker’s wrist, tool belt, harness, and seat board.

According to OSHA, the rule also incorporates advances in technology, industry best practices, and national consensus standards to provide effective and cost-efficient worker protection. Specifically, the rule updates general industry standards addressing slip, trip, and fall hazards (subpart D), and adds a new section specifying requirements for personal fall protection systems (subpart I). “The final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, David Michaels, PhD. “OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls.” The agency estimates this rule will prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 lost-workday injuries every year. Most provisions of the rule take effect on January 17, 2017.

Other highlights of the rule include:

  • 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. It also sets requirements for fall protection in specific situations, such as hoist areas, runways, areas above dangerous equipment, wall openings, repair pits, stairways, scaffolds, and slaughtering platforms. It also establishes requirements for the performance, inspection, use, and maintenance of personal fall protection systems.
  • The rule codifies a 1991 OSHA memorandum that permits employers to use Rope Descent Systems (RDS), which consist of a roof anchorage, support rope, descent device, carabiners or shackles, and a chair or seat board. These systems are widely used throughout the country to perform elevated work, such as window washing.
  • The new rule includes requirements to protect workers from falling off fixed and portable ladders, as well as mobile ladder stands and platforms.
  • The rule adds a requirement that employers ensure workers who use personal fall protection and work in other specified high-hazard situations are trained, and retrained as necessary, about fall and equipment hazards, including fall protection systems.

The final rule will be published in the Federal Register on November 18. On January 17, 2017 (60 days after its publication date), all provisions will take effect, with the following exceptions:

  • Ensuring exposed workers are trained on fall hazards (6 months);
  • Ensuring workers who use equipment covered by the final rule are trained (6 months);
  • Inspecting and certifying permanent anchorages for rope descent systems (1 year);
  • Installing personal fall arrest or ladder safety systems on new fixed ladders over 24 feet and on replacement ladders/ladder sections, including fixed ladders on outdoor advertising structures (2 years);
  • Ensuring existing fixed ladders over 24 feet, including those on outdoor advertising structures, are equipped with a cage, well, personal fall arrest system, or ladder safety system (2 years); and
  • Replacing cages and wells (used as fall protection) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems on all fixed ladders over 24 feet (20 years).