Breaking Down OSHA's Revised Walking-Working Surface Standard

Posted on 4/28/2017 by Lee Ann Coniglione

On November 18, 2016, OSHA published a Final Rule to update its Walking-Working Surfaces Standard at 29 CFR 1910, Subpart D. The Final Rule took effect on January 17 of this year and will impact an estimated 100 million employees at 7 million general industry workplaces in the US.

OSHA cites numerous benefits of the rule changes it expects will favorably impact both employees and employers alike. Among the most important benefits for promulgating the rule changes are those that directly correlate with employee safety in the workplace.

As a result of changes to the Subpart D Standard—such as the incorporation of technology advancements and industry best practices—the Agency estimates the new rule will prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 lost-workday injuries each year.

The revised Walking-Working Surfaces Standard also allows employers to exercise more flexibility when it comes to fall protection systems. Rather than being locked into exclusively using guardrails as the primary means of fall protection, employers can select from other acceptable means of fall protection systems under the updated OSHA Standard. Among the choices are guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems, travel restraint systems, and others.

New Rules Cover ALL General Industry Workplaces

One simple yet major change in OSHA’s new Walking-Working Surfaces Standard is a broader, consolidated scope of the walking-working surface requirements. Under the new rule, Subpart D applies to “all general industry workplaces…” unless explicitly excluded in the regulations.  

In the past, various sections of Subpart D—general requirements, fixed industrial stairs, portable wood ladders, etc.—each had a unique scope. This required employers to check the separate sections to determine whether specific equipment, surfaces, or employees were covered. The revised scope, while broader, consolidates and simplifies the applicability of Subpart D.

Keep in mind, OSHA is specifically talking about General Industry here (i.e., 29 CFR 1910) and as such, the Final Rule has no impact whatsoever on either agricultural or construction operations.

Newly Organized Subpart D Standards

One of the first things you may notice in the revised Subpart D is that OSHA reorganized and renamed the individual sections within Subpart D. In short, these changes are the result of an alignment between the General Industry fall protection standard and the long-standing Construction standards for fall protection.

Below is a side-by-side comparison of the Final Subpart D and the “old” or existing version.
Final Subpart D (New) Existing Subpart D (Old)
§1910.21 Scope and definitions §1910.21 Definitions
§1910.22 General requirements §1910.22 General requirements
§1910.23 Ladders §1910.23 Guarding floor and wall openings and  holes
§1910.24 Step bolts and manhole steps §1910.24 Fixed industrial stairs
§1910.25 Stairways §1910.25 Portable wood ladders
§1910.26 Dockboards §1910.26 Portable metal ladders
§1910.27 Scaffolds and rope descent systems §1910.27 Fixed ladders
§1910.28 Duty to have fall protection and falling object protection §1910.28 Safety requirements for scaffolding
§1910.29 Fall protection systems and falling object protection – criteria and practices §1910.29 Manually propelled mobile ladder stands and scaffolds (towers)
§1910.30 Training requirements §1910.30 Other working surfaces

New Walking-Working Standard Vocabulary

OSHA’s new Walking-Working Surfaces regulations also remove several familiar terms and add some new ones to the definitions portion of Subpart D.
The following are just some of the newly added terms:
  • Anchorage: a secure point of attachment for equipment such as lifelines, lanyards, deceleration devices, and rope descent systems.
  • Low-slope roof: a roof that has a slope less than or equal to a ratio of 4 in 12 (vertical to horizontal).
  • Personal fall arrest system: a system used to arrest an employee in a fall from a walking-working surface. It consists of a body harness, anchorage, and connector. The means of connection may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or suitable combination of these.
  • Personal fall protection system: a system (including all components) an employer uses to provide protection from falling or to safely arrest an employee’s fall if one occurs. Examples of personal fall protection systems include personal fall arrest systems, positioning systems, and travel restraint systems.
  • Warning line: a barrier erected to warn employees that they are approaching an unprotected side or edge, and which designates an area in which work may take place without the use of other means of fall protection.

Extended Compliance Phase-in Period

While we’ve discussed a number of changes found in the new Final Rule, we’ve only scratched the surface—no pun intended. The Final Rule itself was 500 pages long, and there is much more information to be found on OSHA’s website. The good news for employers is that not all of the updates required by this Final Rule must be done at once.

First, employers must train exposed workers on fall and equipment hazards in the workplace before May 17, 2017. The timeframe for employers to inspect and certify all fall protection anchorage points, which are permanent fixtures in buildings, is one year.

This phased-in approach affords employers extended compliance deadlines for larger-scale, higher-capital expenditures like retrofitting existing fixed ladders to have some form of fall protection (e.g., personal fall arrest system, cages, wells). The table below is an excerpt from the Federal Register that conveniently summarizes the phased-in compliance dates. The phase in ends on November 18, 2036, when all ladders must be equipped with a ladder safety system or personnal fall arrest system. 

Federal Register, Vol. 81, November 18, 2016 (pg. 82980)

Live Training—OSHA’s New Walking Working Surface Final Rule

Lion’s 10-hour OSHA General Industry Online Course has been updated to reflect changes to the Walking-Working Surfaces Standards as well. Sign up here. 

Tags: 29, CFR, new rules, osha

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