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Fall Protection Rule


Fall Protection Rule: January 2017 Changes that Impact You

In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its general industry standards on walking-working surfaces. The changes are aimed at reducing and preventing falls, trips, and slips in workplaces. Known as the Fall Protection Rule, the changes came into effect on January 17, 2017. The final rule introduces new provisions and revisions pertaining to various aspects. These include training on fall hazards, rope descent systems, and fixed ladders.

It also covers additional requirements on the performance, use, and design of fall protection systems. The rule is aimed at ensuring consistency between construction and general industry standards. Consistency is expected to promote compliance by organizations involved in the two sectors. Some requirements come with compliance dates.

The changes also help reflect advances in technology and align the rules with national consensus standards. OSHA tweaked the requirements and simplified the language to eliminate any ambiguity. The administration used performance-based language in some sections to provide greater compliance flexibility.

OSHA is confident that technological advances will contribute to a reduction in workplace injuries and deaths. According to official estimates released by the administration, the final standard will prevent over 5,842 injuries and 29 fatalities every year. The rule will have an impact on the safety of up to 112 million employees.

Basis for Agency Action considering the Fall Protection Rule

Workers in various sectors are exposed to surface hazards that increase the likelihood of injury or loss of life. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), falls, trips and slips are some of major causes of workplace injuries and fatalities.

The final rule has provisions for different types of walking-working surfaces, including:

  • Ladders
  • Scaffolds
  • Floors
  • Dockboards
  • Stairways
  • Runways
  • Roofs
  • And more

Fall Protection Systems

The revisions and updates are aimed at walking-working surfaces standards (29 CFR part 1910, subpart D). Meanwhile, the Fall Protection Standards (29 CFR part 1926, subpart M) gives companies some degree of flexibility by recommending multiple options. Employers can deploy fall protection systems, such as travel restraint, work positioning systems, and personal fall arrest. This is in contrast to mandating the deployment of guardrail systems.

Flexibility is aimed at enabling companies to implement controls that are suitable and more effective in specific workplace settings. This aspect is considered the most significant update.

Additional updates regarding these systems include permission to use rope descent systems. This applies to elevated structures up to 300 feet above a lower level. The changes also prohibit the use of body belts for the purpose of arresting falls. However, employers are permitted to deploy non-conventional fall protection mechanisms where necessary, including in designated areas on low-slope roofs.


Although the majority of updates and revisions became effective on January 17, 2017, others have delayed deadlines. These include:

  • Training relevant employees on walking-working surface hazards (6 months)
  • Provide basic training to workers who use equipment listed in the final rule (6 months)
  • Conducting mandatory inspections and certifications on permanent anchorages for rope descent systems (12 months)
  • Installation of safety mechanisms on ladders and fall arrest systems that are over 24 feet (24 months)
  • Replacing wells and cages with personal fall arrest systems on fixed ladders over 24 feet (20 months)

Importance of compliance

OSHA has been updating and revising the walking-working surfaces standards routinely since 1973. The body has been making changes based on technical information regarding hazards and prevention methods. The overriding aim has always been to achieve a considerable drop in the number of injuries. For this reason, OSHA anticipates a significant decline in injuries and deaths as from the effective date.

Compliance by employers plays a huge role in achieving these objectives. As such, successful implementation cannot be pinned on OSHA and employees only. OSHA conducts extensive feasibility studies aimed at evaluating the practicality of new rules. Updates must be technologically and economically feasible.

Although OSHA evaluates the annual benefits of the standards in relation to annual costs, it does not prioritize net benefits. The Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601) requires the administration to establish the economic impact of changes on small businesses. According to the Assistant Secretary, the new fall protection rule does not have a considerable impact on small businesses.

Identifying and rectifying walking-working surface hazards

Workplaces feature a wide variety of walking-working surface hazards. Employers need to identify these risky surfaces as a first step toward creating a safer working environment for all employees. Some of the hazards include worn or damaged parts on fall protection systems and unconventional use of ladders. Additional hazards include damaged stair threads, improperly secured dockboards as well as water, ice, snow, or oil on walking-working surfaces.

NTT Training conducts regular OSHA 10-hour safety training classes with the aim to train and inform participants properly on OSHA standards. To book training dates for your employees or obtain additional information, get in touch with NTT today.

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