OSHA updates walking-working surfaces standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a final rule updating its general industry walking-working surfaces standards regarding slip, trip and fall hazards. The rule also includes a new section under the general industry personal protective equipment standard, Subpart I, that establishes employer requirements for using personal fall-protection systems.

The final rule's most significant update allows employers to select the fall-protection system that works best for them from a range of options, including personal fall-arrest (PFA), guardrail, safety net and travel restraint systems. The use of PFA, guardrail and safety net systems has been a component of the OSHA construction regulations for years. The final rule adopts similar requirements for general industry with added specifications for travel restraint not present in the construction rules in an attempt to increase the consistency between the construction and general industry rules. OSHA argues this change will benefit employees and employers that work in both industries. The new rule also introduces a fall-protection option similar to one available for roofing work under the construction rules—allowing warning lines in certain instances in "designated areas." Other updates include allowing employers to use rope descent systems up to 300 feet above a lower level (for example, in window washing operations); prohibiting the use of body belts as part of a PFA system; and requiring worker training that addresses fall hazards, fall-protection systems and equipment.

OSHA estimates the final standard will prevent 29 fatalities and more than 5,842 injuries annually. The rule takes effect Jan. 17 and will affect about 112 million workers at 7 million work sites.