Walking/Working Surfaces Rule – important deadline approaching, enforcement lessons
Falls are one of the leading causes of serious injury and death in the workplace. Approximately 20 percent of the workplace fatalities, disabling injuries, and days away from work in general industry result from slips, trips, and falls. Each year, the Walking/Working Surfaces Rule is among the most cited standards by OSHA. Four of the agency’s 10 most cited standards in 2017 were related to fall prevention, including the rules for ladder safety and scaffolds.
OSHA began its attempts to update the rule in 1990, which was finally accomplished in 2016, with a 513-page document. The update to the general industry walking-working surfaces standards (found in 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D) and its scaffold standards (found in Subpart I) clarified definitions, eliminated overly specific application conditions, better organized the requirements, simplified general requirements, aligned more closely with the construction standard, and gave flexibility to use personal fall protection systems in lieu of guardrail systems. It has met with few legal challenges.
November 19 deadline for existing fixed ladders
With the exception of some requirements for updating fixed ladders, the requirements of the updated standards became effective in 2017. Under the revised standard, cages or wells for fall protection on fixed ladders higher than 24 feet are no longer acceptable. However, there are grandfather provisions and a phase-in period for the new provisions:
- Fixed ladder systems installed before November 19, 2018 must have a cage, well, ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system
- Fixed ladder systems installed on or after November 19, 2018 must be equipped with a personal fall arrest system or ladder safety system (cages or wells for fall protection are no longer acceptable) (1910.28(b)(9)(i)(B))
- When any portion of a fixed ladder is replaced, the replacement must be equipped with a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system (1910.28(b)(9)(i)(C))
- Cages and wells on all fixed ladders extending more than 24-feet must be replaced with a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system by November 18, 2036 (1910.28(b)(9)(i)(D))
Insights from enforcement statistics
Since OSHA’s fiscal year begins in October, the most recent enforcement statistics include 3.5 months under the old rules and 8.5 under the new. However, they do shed light on vulnerable areas for employers. (Statistic from Conn, Maciel, Carey webinar, Lessons learned from OSHA’s updated Walking/Working Surfaces Rule)
The highest number of citations were under Section 1910.22 General Requirements:
- 291 citations for general housekeeping
- 122 citations for clean and dry floors
- 53 citations for walkways free from hazards
- 18 citations for maximum load intended
Lesson: Clearly the number one issue is keeping floors and surfaces clean, dry, and clear of hazards. This type of citation is low hanging fruit for OSHA. It’s also important to note that while the rule does not have a requirement for posting a maximum intended load notice, employees must know the maximum intended limit.
Section 1910.28 is the second most cited section. This requires employers to protect workers from all fall hazards along unprotected sides or edges that are at least four feet above a lower level.
- 205 citations for unprotected sides and edges
- 55 citations for fall protection stairways
- 49 citations for falls – holes
- 26 citations for falls around dangerous equipment
Lesson: Unprotected sides and edges are a pain point for employers and OSHA. Though the rule states specific details for different situations, it offers more fall prevention and protection options than guarding, such as safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), positioning systems, travel restraint systems, and ladder safety systems and identifies the exceptions to the requirement.
In addition to the grandfathering provisions for fall protection for existing fixed ladders discussed above, the rule also allows grandfathering for:
However, in the preamble it notes that grandfathering is not allowed for guardrail height. Grandfathering status is unclear for the dimensions between ladder ledges and step bolts.
- Enforcement Guidance for General Industry Rope Descent System (RDS) Anchorage Requirements (29 CFR 1910.27(b)(1))
- Letter of interpretation denying leniency for additional time to train workers on fall hazards & equipment, additional time to provide fall protection equipment, exempting telecom tower industry from 300′ climbing limit for RDSs, raising trigger for fall protection in general industry to match the 6 ft. trigger for construction, withdrawing exemption from fall protection for pre-work and post-work inspections/assessments. This letter also included a promise to publish a technical amendment correcting 1910.140(c)(8) so it is consistent with ANSI Z359.1-2007 requirements for testing the gate strength of snaphooks and carbiners.
- Frequently Asked Questions
For Cutting-Edge Strategies on Managing Risks and Slashing Insurance Costs visit www.StopBeingFrustrated.com