OSHA this week issued a final rule updating its general industry Walking-Working Surfaces standards specific to slip, trip, and fall hazards. The rule also includes a new section under the general industry Personal Protective Equipment standards that establishes employer requirements for using personal fall protection systems.

"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 Dr. David Michaels. "OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls." The final rule also increases consistency between general and construction industries, which will help employers and workers that work in both industries.

The final rule's most significant update is allowing employers to select the fall protection system that works best for them, choosing from a range of accepted options including personal fall protection systems. OSHA has permitted the use of personal fall protection systems in construction since 1994 and the final rule adopts similar requirements for general industry. Other changes include allowing employers to use rope descent systems up to 300 feet above a lower level; prohibiting the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system; and requiring worker training on personal fall protection systems and fall equipment.

The International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), which provided comments on the proposal and testified at a 2011 public hearing on it in Washington, applauds the rule.

“ISEA’s fall protection members routinely create new fall protection solutions, including custom configurations, using modern technology for a wide array of workplace fall hazards,” said Marc Harkins, Product Group Manager for MSA Safety, and Chair of ISEA’s Fall Protection Group. “We recognize the importance of comprehensive, relevant and practical OSHA regulations that will result in meaningful protection of the nation’s workforce from fall hazards.”

OSHA estimates the final standard will prevent 29 fatalities and more than 5,842 injuries annually. The rule becomes effective on Jan. 17, 2017, and will affect approximately 112 million workers at seven million worksites.

ISEA’s membership includes manufacturers of fall protection equipment and systems. Click here to contact an ISEA fall protection manufacturer for information.