OSHA’s New Fall Regulations


OSHA has updated a final rule on walking-working surfaces. Under the new rule, employers have more flexibility when selecting fall protection systems that are most suitable for their workers.

The updated rule reflects the incorporation of new technologies and better industry practices. It became effective on January 17 and is estimated to prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 injuries each year. Ensuring exposed workers are trained on fall hazards and who use equipment covered by the final rule became effective on May 17, 2017.

For example, it eliminates the existing mandate to use guardrails as a primary fall protection method and allows employers to choose from accepted fall protection systems they believe will work best in a particular situation – an approach that has been successful in the construction industry since 1994. In addition, employers will be able to use non-conventional fall protection in certain situations, such as designated areas on low-slope roofs.

This year, OSHA’s new regulations will affect 6.9 million establishments, where 112 million workers are being employed. They not only will apply to construction businesses but to general industry operations as well.

As much as possible, OSHA aligned fall protection requirements for general industry with those for construction, easing compliance for employers who perform both types of activities. For example, the final rule replaces the outdated general industry scaffold standards with a requirement that employers comply with OSHA’s construction scaffold standards.

Some provisions have delayed effective dates, including:

  • Inspecting and certifying permanent anchorages for rope descent systems (November 20, 2017),
  • Installing personal fall arrest or ladder safety systems on new fixed ladders over 24 feet and on replacement ladders/ladder sections, including fixed ladders on outdoor advertising structures (November 19, 2018),
  • Ensuring existing fixed ladders over 24 feet, including those on outdoor advertising structures, are equipped with a cage, well, personal fall arrest system, or ladder safety system (November 19, 2018), and
  • Replacing cages and wells (used as fall protection) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems on all fixed ladders over 24 feet (November 18, 2036).