Your Fall Protection Responsibilities- As Building Owners, Architects, Construction or Maintenance Services
by Ken Kempa
Did you know that falls are the leading cause of traumatic workplace injury in the United States? Did you know that over a year ago (Nov. 2016, General Industry 29 CFR 1910), OSHA published its final rule on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment- the first update in over 45-years? Many still do not, but as they say, “Ignorance of the law…is no excuse!”
As a building owner do you know your window cleaning anchor points, must be engineered, tested and certified, to be able to handle a 5,000 lb. load? And that they must be re-certified every ten years? Were you aware that before your window cleaners suspend from the anchor points on your building, you must provide to your contractor, written assurances that the anchorages have been certified? Did you know your roof must have a 42” parapet or guardrail, or other fall protection system to protect your employees or contractors, if their responsibilities require them to work on the roof, or other fall hazard locations?
Architects- are you designing in fall protection provisions during new projects, and for additions to existing structures? Are general contractors aware of the need for fall protection systems on finished projects, realizing it is much easier to incorporate them during new construction, vs. retrofitting once complete?
Do the trades with the most frequent exposure to fall hazards, while performing services and maintenance on rooftops, ask for written proof that the anchorages their workers are tying off to, have been designed and engineered to OSHA’s minimum standards? Are you aware that training on the use of personal protective equipment, MUST be performed by a QUALIFIED person, and not be treated as a casual, “put this on” command?
So here is your chance, in a greatly simplified format, to learn of the basic but significant changes in this more than 500-page, difficult to process ruling. These regulations will greatly affect building owners, architects who design new or retro-fit construction, and the contractors who then build. Also, companies who provide maintenance services that place their workers at risk, when they perform tasks such as roofing, HVAC, security camera, solar, or window cleaning.
The final rule addresses all walking-working surfaces, including horizontal and vertical surfaces such as floors, stairs, roofs, ladders, ramps, scaffolds, and elevated walkways. It also has provisions affecting personal fall protection systems, including design, performance, use, and the requirement for Qualified training. These actions are designed to prevent and reduce workplace slips, trips, and falls, as well as other injuries and fatalities associated with walking-working surface hazards.
Additionally covered, are a wide variety of general industry entities, including building management services, utilities, warehousing, retail, window cleaning, chimney sweeping and outdoor advertising. The rule includes revised and new provisions addressing, for example, fixed ladders, rope descent systems, fall protection systems and criteria including personal fall protection systems, and training on fall hazards and fall protection systems.
The final rule also uses performance-based language. This means, the employer has the latitude to assess the fall hazard and determine which of the OSHA approved fall protection systems is best for the situation, allowing for greater compliance flexibility. OSHA estimates that overall, all these changes will prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 lost-workday injuries every year.
The following specifies the timeframe which OSHA is giving employers to certify anchorages, equip fixed ladders with fall protection, and train workers on the new Walking-Working Surfaces rules:
Deadlines already passed-
Employers must train employees on fall hazards and equipment, by May 17, 2017.
Certification of Anchorages, was required by Nov. 20, 2017.
Deadline by which employers must equip existing fixed ladders greater than 24’ with a cage, well, ladder safety system, or personal fall arrest system. November 19, 2018
Deadline to begin equipping new fixed ladders greater than 24’ with a ladder safety system, or personal fall arrest system. November 19, 2018
What are the Major Changes in the final rule?
Low-Slope Roof is a new term that OSHA added to the final rule- defined as a roof with a slope less than, or equal to, a ratio of 4 in 12. A ratio of 4 in 12 means a vertical rise of 4 units (e.g., inches, feet, and meters) to every 12 units of horizontal run. OSHA is aware that low-slope roofs also are referred to as ‘‘flat roofs.’’ However, even a so-called ‘‘flat roof’’ has some slope to allow for drainage. As such, OSHA believes that the term ‘‘low-slope roof’’ more accurately represents these roofing configurations.
- If less than 6 feet from edge: acceptable forms of fall protection are guard rails, nets, travel
- restraint or Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS).
- 6 feet to less than 15 feet from edge: acceptable forms are guard rails, netting, travel restraint, or PFAS. Employer may use a designated area (warning line) when performing work that is both infrequent and temporary.
- 15 feet or more from edge: acceptable forms are guard rails, netting, travel restraint or PFAS, or a designated area (warning line).
NOTE: An employer is not required to provide any fall protection if work is both infrequent AND temporary, and they implement and enforce a work rule prohibiting employee from going within 15 feet of edge, without using fall protection. Be aware, that any service or maintenance performed more than once per month is considered regular or routine and IS NOT considered “infrequent”. The term “temporary” refers to the duration of the task. OSHA states that temporary tasks are those that can be completed in 1-2 hours, don’t span into a 2nd day, and don’t involve multiple trips to the roof.
Inspection of walking-working surfaces. The rule requires that employers inspect walking-working surfaces regularly and as needed, then correct, repair, or guard against hazardous conditions. These include keeping walking-working surfaces free of hazards, such as sharp or protruding objects, spills, snow or ice, etc.
Training. The final rule adds requirements that employers ensure workers, who use personal fall protection and work in other specified high-hazard situations, are trained and retrained as necessary, about fall and equipment hazards, including fall protection systems. Employers must provide information and training to each worker, in a manner the worker clearly understands.
This final rule became effective on January 17, 2017, so you need to ask yourself…are you up to compliance in every area?
Don’t be overwhelmed if you are not, feeling paralyzed at how or when to even start! You may very well ask yourself, “How can this possibly all get done?” Giving up because you feel overwhelmed, and not doing anything, will be very negatively viewed by OSHA, especially in the unfortunate instance that an injury occurs.
The most important consideration is knowing where your shortcomings are, and then laying out a detailed plan to address every open issue, in a structured, documented format. Aggressively pursue action items towards solutions, recording completions and successes all along the way. Once you are aware of working at height fall hazards, your legal and moral obligations are to address all unsafe conditions in your workplace, in a swift and documented fashion. But the starting point at first, is to perform an audit of your walking-working surfaces, to identify all possible issues requiring your attention.
Additional information on OSHA’s rule on walking-working surfaces and personal fall protection
systems can be found at www.osha.gov/walking-working-surfaces
Ken Kempa is the Manager, Technical Communications- for Rooftop Anchor, Heber City, UT. He has extensive senior safety experience in auditing, technical writing, and worked decades in mining, oil & gas, and working at height.