Accidental falls, whether from great heights or on even surfaces, remain one of the leading causes of workplace injuries and deaths. New Federal occupational safety rulings on fall protection systems seek to mitigate the risk of falling and reduce the danger industrial workers expose themselves to when working.

OSHA has issued its final ruling on Walking-Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Systems – section 1910 for those familiar with Federal safety guidelines. This ruling incorporates the latest technological advances and industry best practices to identify ideal workplace conditions for industrial employees.

The rules apply to employees who work in the manufacturing, construction, energy, transportation, utility, and tech industries.

Changes to OSHA 1910 – What Employers Should Expect

According to the Office of the Federal Register, the complete workplace safety standards change will take effect as of November 2018. As of that date, employers will no longer be required to use guardrails as a primary fall protection measure. Instead, employers may choose between several situation-specific fall protection systems.

Guardrails are just one of many different systems that may work within companies that fall under the general industry standard. For instance, it would not be feasible or compliant to provide a laborer performing work on a high slope roof with a guardrail, but a properly designed fall arresting system would provide proper protection should the laborer accidentally slip or fall from the roof.

The new rules specify which non-conventional fall protection systems are cleared for use, and in what workplace contexts employers can opt to use them. Experts expect that this will lead to industry-wide growth in the purchase of alternative fall protection devices such as cable-based systems, roof anchor systems, and rigid rail fall arrest systems.

Rules for Ladders

Fixed ladders more than 24 feet long also get special treatment from the new OSHA guidelines. When the new rules take full effect, employers will need to replace ladder wells and cages with active fall protection measures.

An unacceptable number of workers have fallen on ladder cages and injured themselves in the process. As a result, OSHA does not consider cages or wells as sufficient for workplace fall safety. Instead, employers must install a ladder safety system that includes a carrier, safety sleeve, lanyard, connectors, and body harness, or some combination thereof.

Any new ladder, and within 20 years, all fixed ladders extending more than 24 feet, must also incorporate a ladder safety system.

Construction Compliance

Flammability, stairwell, and general construction standards are also updated as of the latest OSHA guidelines. In most cases, OSHA aligned its new fall protection standards for general industry with its existing fall protection standards for construction. This makes compliance easier for employers who engage in both types of activities.

For instance, outdated general industry scaffold standards have been replaced with OSHA’s existing construction scaffold standards wholesale – there is no longer a difference between the two sets of standards.

Benefits and Economic Impact

First and foremost, OSHA expects these new standards to save 29 lives per year. It projects that in addition to the 29 fatalities prevented annually, it will also save 5,824 employees from suffering workplace-related injuries. In its update preamble, OSHA mentions that these estimates are very conservative, noting that its new guidelines could prevent the vast majority of falling accidents if implemented properly.

In pure monetary terms, this equates to industry-wide savings of more than $600 million. That assumes an average cost of $62,000 per workplace injury and $8.7 million per fatality – figures drawn from analyzing recent years’ workplace injury costs.

OSHA expects implementing the plan to cost up to $300 million – a major portion of which will be due to new training requirements. However, the updated standards are still projected to save employers time and money over the long term.

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