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OSHA Releases More Pliable Fall Protection Standards

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new ruling to help prevent falling accidents on the job. Under the new rule on Walking-Working and Personal Fall Protection Systems, effective January 17, 2017, employers are required to implement systems for personal fall protection that best suits their individual needs. According to OSHA, the new ruling will prevent 29 deaths and over 5,842 injuries per year and will protect an estimated 112 million employees.

Background Of OSHA

OSHA was established to protect employees in almost all industries from on the job accidents and enforcing the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. They are also charged with monitoring and improving the quality of employees workplace environment. The new rule follows an almost 17 year gap in publishing and amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act. In 1990, OSHA updated rulings on the safety of workers dating back to the 1970's. The rules that were established in the 1970's designated employers the responsibility of protecting employees from slips, trips, and falls, and to provide standard personal protective equipment and ergonomic equipment.

Changes that Come with the New Ruling

The ruling is about 500 pages in the Federal Registrar and encompasses a wide array of safety concerns for employees. It mainly pertains to walking and working areas including ladders, flooring, stairs, roofs, runways, and basically any other surfaces that the employee's feet will touch.

The most significant change from the new ruling is the ability for employers to choose a protection system that works best for their specific business and not a one size fits all protection system that they had in the past. Of course, the systems are limited to a predetermined number of approved options set forth by the OSHA, but it still allows more flexibility than ever before. The list of approved protection systems is limited, however, leaving many gaps for companies and many situations.

One of the largest industries that will be affected by the new ruling are companies who deliver services dependent on some type of elevation. For example the use of a ladder or lift and companies such as building maintenance, construction, cable providers, electrical workers, and any other employee that will be elevated from the ground. Even companies that have stairs are covered by this ruling because technically the stairs pose a threat to the employee for a fall risk.

Employers must now provide more significant protection for employees who will be elevated including travel restraints and guard rails. The new standard requires better protection for employees that will need to access roofs, scaffolds, runways, and areas with dangerous equipment.

Another addition to the ruling is the requirement of fall protection training for employers and employees. Employers must properly train their employees on the ability to identify and eliminate potential fall hazards as well as the proper usage of the protective equipment. The requirements are very specific as to who has the ability to train employees, what they need to be trained on, and how the training is to be performed. Employers also have the responsibility of deeming which employees need to be retrained on certain aspects.

The new ruling is indeed overdue and of course, will experience some challenges. Time will expose areas that need to be extended on under the ruling, however, the standards are enforceable and employees need to get on board with the new updates or face a significant fine. You should read over the standards that pertain to your company and possibly seek help from your attorney or representative to ensure you are in compliance.  Please visit the offical OSHA website to read over the new regulations.   

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