Guest Column | December 15, 2016

10 Key Changes To Fall Protection Regulations For General Industry

Sheldon Primus

By Sheldon Primus

The Walking-Working Surfaces rule for General Industry (GI) has been a long time coming for regulators. There have been fall protection rules with vague or missing wording in the 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D standard ever since it was adopted in 1971. In 1984, an OSHA standard directive number STD 01-01-013 outlined the way to cite a general industry worker on an elevated surface above 4 feet. The worker would be cited as a violation of the general duty clause of the OSH Act Section 5(a)(1) or 29 CFR 1910.23(c)(1) depending on a technical definition of the platform. These new regulations (to Subpart D and Subpart I) have made the fall protection requirements for general industry align to great degree with construction. This article will give 10 key changes for the general industry employer to be aware of for their workplace. It represents only a handful of items from the standard. I’ll be doing a live webinar on the new Subpart D and I changes in January 2017.

1.  Your July 2016 CFR Is Already Outdated!  

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is an organized and codified way for federal regulatory agencies to provide rules for compliance. The U.S. Department of Labor is under Title 29 and General Industry (anything that is not construction, maritime, or agriculture) is under Part 1910. Each year the CFR is updated in July with the most up-to-date information at the time. In order for you to know that you have the most current information regarding OSHA regulations, you must compare the CFR (available by many publishers) and the Federal Register.

If you have been used to citing standards from Subparts D and I, then you may be reciting standard numbers that have changed. For instance, Subpart D begins with 1910.21 Scope and Definitions and 1910.23 is Ladders (not just wooden and metal). The most recent regulatory wording can be found here.

2.  The General Requirements In 1910.22

Within the general requirements, the new requirements outline:

  • 1910.22(a) Surface conditions – outlines the former housekeeping guidance
  • 1910.22(b) Loads – gives a performance criteria that says surfaces must be able to support the maximum intended load (instead of the requiring marked plates of approved design securely affixed on to the building to denote the floor loading)
  • 1910.22(c) Access and egress – employees must have a safe means of access and egress
  • 1910.22(d) Inspection, maintenance, and repair – this is closer to the former housekeeping ruling with an additional requirement for regular inspection and repaired before workers are allowed back on the surface

3.  Ladders 1910.23

The major change in this ruling is the inclusion of all ladders and not a segment of wood and metal ladders. There are many specification requirements throughout this section that detail acceptable distances and clearances. Portable ladders even have a new requirement to be secured or guarded to prevent accidental displacement if it is in a place located in a passageway, doorway, or driveway. An exception to the ladder ruling is when they are used in an emergency operations setting such as firefighting, rescue, and tactical law enforcement operations or for the training of those workers. Also, if a ladder is designed into or is an integral part of machines or equipment, then it is exempt from the ladder rules.  

Fixed ladders that extend more than 24 feet above a lower level received big changes in this regulation. Existing fixed ladders installed before November 19, 2018 must be equipped with a Personal Fall Arrest System (PFAS) or ladder safety system, cage, or well. New fixed ladders installed on or after November 19, 2018 must have a PFAS or a ladder system. The deadline to equip all fixed ladders with a PFAS or ladder system is November 18, 2036 (yes, 2036).

4.  Scaffolding

Another bombshell in the rule is 1910.27(a), which states: Scaffolds used in general industry must meet the requirements in 29 CFR part 1926, Subpart L (Scaffolding). There was a bit of a disconnect in the old GI regulations for scaffolding, such as:

  • ‘Competent person’ wasn’t used in the standard to determine who can erect, dismantle, move, or alter a scaffold. In the construction standard, it is clearly stated that a competent person qualified in the activities of scaffolding is the only one allowed to undertake these tasks (29 CFR 1926.451(f)(7)).
  • The gap between the planks can only be no more than 1 inch. The past rule was “planking shall be overlapped or secured from movement” and “platform planks shall be laid with their edges close together so that platform will be tight with no spaces through which tools or fragments of material can fall.
  • Planks that had snow or ice on them had to have the snow or ice removed and the planks sanded prior to use. The ruling in Subpart L of construction states that the only person allowed on an ice or slippery scaffold plank was the person removing the slippery material. No sanding is required in this standard.

There are too many changes in the scaffolding rules to mention in this article. A further explanation will be given in an upcoming webinar.

5.  1910.28 Duty To Have Fall Protection And Falling Object Protection

In this section, the duty for fall protection has brand new wording that is used in 29 CFR 1926 Subpart M, except the requirement for GI is still 4 feet. Each employee must be protected from falling from hazards of unguarded sides, edges, various floor openings, and roofs. The duty for fall protection does not apply for the following:

  • Portable ladders;
  • When inspection, investigation, and assessment of work is conducted prior or after all work has begun or is completed (if fall protection systems are not already in place);
  • Fall hazards by the exposed perimeters of entertainment stages;
  • Exposed perimeters of rail-station platforms;
  • Powered platforms covered by 1910.67(c)(2)(v)
  • Aerial lifts covered by 1910.67(c)(2)(v);
  • Telecommunication work covered by 1910.268(n)(7) and (8)
  • Electric power generation, transmission, and distribution work covered by 1910.269(g)(2)(i)

The system for protecting workers from a fall are guardrails, safety net, and personal fall protection system (travel restraint, fall arrest, or positioning). However, the standard allows for employers that can demonstrate that it is not feasible; or if fall protection creates a greater hazard, then the employer can develop and implement a fall protection plan that meets the requirement of 29 CFR 1926.502(k) and training that meets the requirements of 29 CFR 1926.503(a) and (c).

6.  Roof Work

For the first time, GI addresses workers who must be on a roof to do maintenance or other tasks. One industry that comes to mind is pest control, as companies must often tent a roof for fumigation work. The anchor point for a PFAS would be covered while the guardrail and safety nets would have tenting material obstructing the usefulness. Therefore, a detailed fall protection plan per the 29 CFR 1926.503 would be in order that would most likely include renting a crane or manlifts. 

Additionally, this standard incorporates protection for a worker working on a low-slope roof less than 6 feet from the edge to have fall protection. A worker on a roof 15 feet from the roof edge does not need fall protection if the work is both infrequent and temporary.

7.  Outdoor Advertising (Billboards) 1910.28(b)(10)

Workers in the outdoor advertising industry that have to climb a fixed ladder without any safety system, PFAS, cage, or well, must:

  • Receive training and demonstrate the physical capability to perform the climb;
  • Wear a body harness equipped with an 18-inch rest lanyard
  • Keep both hands free of tools or material when climbing on the ladder; and
  • Be protected by a fall protection system upon reaching the work position.

8.  Deadlines

The timelines related to these rulings are:

  • Workers must be trained on fall hazards within 6 months of the rule being published in the Federal Register
  • Workers that use equipment covered by the rule must be trained by 6 months of the rule being published
  • 2 years for installing personal fall arrest or ladder safety on a new fixed ladder over 24 feet and replacement ladders/ladder section
  • 2 years for outdoor advertising structures with fixed ladders over 24 feet to have a cage, well, PFAS, or ladder safety system
  • Replace cage and wells with a ladder safety or PFAS on all fixed ladders over 24 feet in 20 years

A further explanation will be given in an upcoming webinar.

9.  1910.30 Training

The deadlines have some training requirements, but the training for employees is specific to certain items.

  • Fall hazards
  • How to use PFAS (training must be done by May 17, 2017)
  • Training must be done by a qualified person
  • Training must consist of:
    • The nature of the fall hazard in the work area and how to recognize them
    • The procedure to be followed to minimize the fall hazards identified
    • The correct procedures for installing, inspecting, operating, maintaining, and disassembling the personal fall protection system
    • How to do proper hook-up, anchoring, and tie-off techniques
    • Methods of equipment inspection and storage
  • How to use a dockboard and how to secure one to prevent unintentional movement

Training must be understandable to the worker, and when using a fall protection plan the training must be in accordance to 29 CFR 1926.503(a) and (c).

10.  Other Subpart Revisions

In addition to the Subpart D revision, there are some changes to other subparts. OSHA removed some items and revised others. The affected subparts are:

  • Subpart F – Powered Platforms, Manlifts, and Vehicle-Mounted Work Platforms.
  • Subpart I – Personal Protective Equipment
  • Subpart N – Materials Handling and Storage
  • Subpart R – Special Industries
    • Pulp, paper, and paperboard mills
    • Textiles
    • Sawmills
    • Telecommunications
    • Electric power generation, transmission, and distribution

The many changes to the fall protection standards in general industry are robust and detailed. Many industries have done fall protection on their own by using construction 1926 Subparts L & M as guidance. Now the new rules will detail changes specific to GI concerns and hazards. This was only a brief overview of the key changes. In January, there will be a 90-minute webinar geared to go into more detail of the multitude of fall protection changes in general industry.