OSHA estimates that U.S. employers pay nearly a billion dollars every week in direct workers' compensation costs for injuries to their workers. And falls, both from height and on the same level, continue to be one of the leading causes of the most serious of those work-related injuries and deaths. The National Floor Safety Institute also reports that slip, trip and fall injuries are the number one cause of workers’ compensation claims, lost days from work and occupational injuries for employees 55 and older.
The statistics are sobering, and employers are under constant pressure to make their workplaces safer and control costs.
That’s where OSHA’s recently issued final rule on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems can provide some assistance. This final rule revises and updates the general industry standards for walking and working surfaces and adds requirements for personal fall protection systems, all with the aim of reducing workplace slips, trips and falls, as well as other injuries and fatalities associated with walking and working surface hazards.
How does the final rule benefit employers?
The big payoff for employers is flexibility. Employers will now be allowed to use the fall protection system that works best for them in each situation. That’s how the construction industry has done it for decades, and OSHA is attempting to bring fall protection requirements for general industry in line with those for construction. Another way they’re doing that is by replacing the outdated general industry scaffold standards and instead requiring employers to comply with construction scaffold standards.
These changes are expected to affect approximately 112 million workers at 7 million worksites across the U.S., and OSHA estimates they will prevent 29 fatalities and more than 5,800 injuries every year.
When does the final rule go into effect?
The final rule becomes effective on January 17, 2017, although certain provisions have delayed effective dates, including:
- Ensuring exposed workers are trained on fall hazards (6 months)
- Ensuring workers who use equipment covered by the final rule are trained (6 months)
- Inspecting and certifying permanent anchorages for rope descent systems (1 year)
Several provisions related to ladder systems have also been given extended effective dates:
- Installing personal fall arrest or ladder safety systems on new fixed ladders over 24 feet and on replacement ladders/ladder sections, including fixed ladders on outdoor advertising structures (2 years)
- Ensuring existing fixed ladders over 24 feet, including those on outdoor advertising structures, are equipped with a cage, well, personal fall arrest system or ladder safety system (2 years)
- Replacing cages and wells (used as fall protection) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems on all fixed ladders over 24 feet (20 years)
The new requirements reflect advances in technology and are intended to provide more consistency with other OSHA standards and give employers greater compliance flexibility. And they just might help you reduce workplace injuries and your workers’ compensation costs.