“When will the new walking/working surface rules arrive?” is a question that’s been asked for many, many, many years (as in about 20), but it finally looks like we may have an answer. According to a regulatory agenda published by OSHA in May of this year, the Administration plans to release the final rule for Walking/Working Surfaces this month (August 2016). The rule had been so long in the making, that it essentially needed to go back to the drawing board in order to properly account for new technologies that did not exist in earlier versions.
So what is different this time? Well, with the rule ready to go, despite the fact that regulatory agenda dates are often missed, the administration wants to try to take advantage of the Obama presidency to get this done. Traditionally, Democrat administrations tend to be more regulation-friendly than Republican administrations and OSHA does not want to take a chance on the Presidential Election, hence the push for a release of the final rule this month.
What’s new? Well, mostly fall protection. It may come as a surprise that there is very little said about fall protection in the General Industry standards. In fact, personal fall arrest systems are not mentioned at all. Other than physical barriers and railings, there is no fall protection guidance. The proposed final rule aims to change that. In addition to addressing fall protection and personal fall arrest, the new rule includes updated national consensus standards and industry practices.
The actual changes will occur in two subparts: D (Walking/Working Surfaces) and I (Personal Protective Equipment). Subpart D changes will simply be the requirement to have fall protection, while Subpart I will go into the performance requirements of that equipment. Don’t worry about having new things to remember. If you’re already familiar with construction and Shipyard standards, you will recognize much of what you see as some of the same language is being pulled in order to maintain consistency and avoid confusion.
While the implementing the new rules may cost money, OSHA fully expects that company savings will outweigh costs by almost a factor of 2. And that’s for companies that are not already implementing any aspect of this. Many forward-thinking companies that fall under the General Industry standard may already be using the Construction or Shipyard regulations as a model for their fall protection programs. In this case, extra costs may not exist.
Regardless, OSHA expects the rule to have a big impact. OSHA administrator David Michaels said so himself in an interview in the July issue of the National Safety Council’s Safety and Health magazine. Aside from financial savings, the Administration expects the new rules to prevent 30 annual fatalities. And, in the end, that’s the ultimate goal. Saving lives.