Pop quiz: What’s the most commonly cited OSHA violation, year after year (can't wait for the answer? See Top 10 OSHA Safety Violations You May Have Committed Last Year for the most recent list)?

If you said falls, you know a thing or two about safety violations. Hopefully you know the statistics and haven't experience one personally. But even if you've avoided work-related falls, chances are you know someone who hasn't been so lucky.

Thankfully, OSHA is taking some steps to protect workers from falls. Let's go over what you need to know and answer some commonly asked questions about their new walking-working surface rule.

What Is OSHA Doing to Protect Workers from Falls?

To protect all general industry workers, OSHA issued a final rule to update the existing standards set forth 46 years ago on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems.

With this new walking-working standard, OSHA plans to prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 lost-workday injuries every year.

This final rule will update, align, and provide greater flexibility to workers in the general industry. Updates include the general industry standards addressing slip, trip, and fall hazards (subpart D), and adds requirements for personal fall protection systems (subpart 1).

The final rule harmonizes general industry requirements with the construction industry standard, as well as many ANSI standards, which will make compliance easier and less expensive.

With this final rule, employers now can incorporate a combination of technology, industry best practices, and national consensus standards to provide effective and cost-efficient worker protection.

For example, the final rule eliminates the existing mandate to use guardrails as a primary fall protection method and allows employers to choose from accepted fall protection systems they believe will work best in a particular situation, a method the construction industry has been using since 1994.

Additionally, employers will be able to use non-conventional fall protection in certain situations, such as designated areas on low-slope roofs.

When Does the Walking-Working Surface Rule Come into Effect?

The final rule became effective on January 17, 2017, which was 60 days after the publication in the Federal Register. However, employers have several requirements in the final rule that include compliance dates that began on May 17, 2017.

The dates for the Subpart D Section are as follows:

  • May 17, 2017 – Train workers on fall and equipment hazards
  • November 20, 2017 – Inspection and certification of permanent building anchorages (find out How to Choose Your Fall Protection Anchorage)
  • November 19, 2018 – Installation of fall protection (personal fall arrest systems, ladder safety systems, cages, wells) on existing fixed ladders over 24 feet that don’t have fall protection
  • November 19, 2018 – Installation of ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems on new fixed ladders over 24 feet and replacement ladders and ladder sections
  • November 18, 2036 – Installation of ladder safety systems or personal fall arrest systems on all fixed ladders over 24 feet

Who Is Protected Under the Walking-Working Final Rule?

The new rule applies to all general industry workers and includes surfaces that are horizontal and vertical, such as:

  • Floors
  • Stairs
  • Roofs
  • Ladders
  • Ramps
  • Scaffolds
  • Elevated walkways
  • Fall protection systems

Workers in general industry include:

  • Building management services
  • Roofers
  • Utility workers
  • Chimney sweeps

Just to name a few!

OSHA added a provision in the final rule for residential roofers and this will increase consistency between the general industry and construction standards, which makes it easier to perform both types of activities on residential roofs.

How Will This Final Rule Keep Your Employees Safe?

There are a number of new measures that will protect your workers by:

  • Phasing out the use of qualified climbers in outdoor advertising to eliminate the hazard of workers climbing extended heights on fixed ladders without fall protection
  • Phasing in a requirement that fixed ladders (over 24 feet) must be equipped with ladder safety or personal fall protection systems to prevent workers from falling, or arresting their fall before contract with a lower level
  • Providing performance criteria for personal fall protection equipment in general industry (similar to OSHA’s construction industry rules)
  • Requiring the use of body harnesses and prohibiting body belts in personal fall arrest systems to distribute fall arrest forces over a larger area of a worker’s body
  • Requiring that workers who use personal fall protection and other equipment covered by the standard be trained, and retrained as necessary, in fall and equipment hazards before they work at elevated heights or use that equipment, including fall protection systems

Do Employers Benefit from This Final Rule?

Yes! Employers now have:

  • Greater flexibility because of an increase in fall protection options
  • Greater consistency between general industry and construction standards, which allows for more effective and cost-efficient protection measures
  • Greater ease in following and understanding the rule thanks to performance-based language and criteria

Create a Safer Workplace Now

Protect your workers by implementing these changes now! You have the power to create a safer workforce for your employees, so more workers go home safely.

For more information about the major changes to the general industry walking-working surfaces final rule, check out this FAQ on OSHA's site.