Construction Standards vs General Industry Standards
When the tops of an above ground storage are elevated above the surrounding area and are used as a walking-working surface to enable employees to walk, work, or gain access to a work area or workplace location OSHA’s construction and general industry standards apply.
For purposes of OSHA’s construction standards (29 CFR Part 1926), the top of a storage tank is considered a “walking/working surface.” The top of a storage tank would be also be considered a “platform” for purposes of Subpart D of the General Industry standards (29 CFR Part 1910) depending on the frequency of employee use. OSHA has issued guidance on when an elevated working surface will be treated as a platform covered by the standard.
Final Rule to Update General Industry Walking-Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Standards
Falls from heights and on the same level (a working surface) are among the leading causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths. OSHA issued a final rule on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems January 17, 2017 to better protect workers in general industry from these hazards by updating and clarifying standards and adding training and inspection requirements.
The top of a tank where employees sometimes perform inspection or maintenance duties would fall within the definition of a “walking and working surface”. The rule requires employers to protect workers from fall hazards along unprotected sides or edges that are at least 4 feet above a lower level. It also establishes requirements for the performance, inspection, use, and maintenance of personal fall protection systems.
Fall protection systems are defined as a system that arrests/stops a fall before the worker contacts a lower level. Consists of a body harness, anchorage, and connector, and may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or a suitable combination. Like OSHA’s construction standards, the final rule prohibits the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system.
The rule adds a requirement that employers ensure workers who use personal fall protection and work in other specified high hazard situations are trained, and retrained as necessary, about fall and equipment hazards, including fall protection systems. A qualified person must train these workers to correctly: identify and minimize fall hazards; use personal fall protection systems and rope descent systems; and maintain, inspect, and store equipment or systems used for fall protection.
Additional information on OSHA’s rule on walking-working surfaces and personal fall protection systems can be found at www.osha.gov/walking-working-surfaces.
Regulations Related to Open Sides
Pursuant to §1910.23(c)(1), the open sides of platforms more than four feet above an adjacent floor or ground level must be guarded by a standard railing or the equivalent. If the top of a tank is not a “platform” under the analysis called for in OSHA’s guidance document, the guardrail requirements of that standard would not apply. However, if perimeter guarding is not provided, fall protection in the form of personal protective equipment would likely be required by §1910.132(a).
When Fall Restraint isn’t Enough
A fall restraint system prevents a worker from reaching a fall hazard. However, in certain circumstances the worker must access an area that in and of itself is a fall hazard. Fall Restraint systems are acceptable for flat roofs or walking/working surface with no greater than 18.4 degrees of slope (4/12 pitch, 33% grade). However, a steeply sloped roof or walking/working surface, greater than 18.4 degrees, requires a fall arrest system due to the increased the risk that an employee will slip and fall. An arrest system provides deceleration to a safe stop, preventing serious injury when a person free-falls through space. Even when the edge is protected with guardrail, injury could also result if the employee slides into any perimeter guardrails or protrusions in the surface making arrest systems the best solution.
Gaining Access through a Vertical Solution
OSHA standard at 1910.23(a)(2) requires that “Every ladderway floor opening or platform shall be guarded by a standard-railing with standard toeboard on all exposed sides (except at entrance to opening), with the passage through the railing either provided with a swinging gate or so offset that a person cannot directly walk into the opening.” However, 1910.28(b)(6) permits the use of movable guardrail sections such as gates, chains, and other means, which, when open, provide a means of access and, when closed, provide the guardrail protection that meets the proposed paragraphs 1910.28(b)(1) through (b)(5).
Falls from ladders account for 20 percent of all fatal and lost work-day injuries in general industry. The new rule includes requirements to protect workers from falling off fixed and portable ladders as well as mobile ladder stands and platforms.