Final rule updating walking-working surfaces standards and establishing personal fall protection systems requirements – what does this mean in practice?

5 minute read | 10 January 2017 14:23:40 GMT

Working at height

OSHA general industry standards on walking-working surfaces to prevent and reduce workplace slips, trips, and falls, as well as other injuries and fatalities associated with walking-working surface hazards, become effective next week.


The final 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. In addition, the final rule adds requirements on the design, performance and use of personal fall protection systems.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels said:

"The final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries. OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls."

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But what does this mean in practice?

Falls form height and on the same level or working surface are among the leading causes of work-related accidents and deaths – the world over.


OSHA estimates that 202,000 serious injuries and 345 fatalities occur annually amongst workers directly affected by the new standards and will implement the final rule to better protect workers in general industry from hazards by updating and (more importantly) clarifying these standards and adding training and inspection requirements.

The rule affects a wide range of workers from window cleaners to chimney sweeps - it does not however, change construction or agricultural standards – N.B. it is for general industry only. OSHA estimates the new rule will save 29 fatalities and just shy of 6,000 injuries each year in the US as well as estimating that it will affect approximately 112 million workers at 7 million worksites.


It is intended that the final rule will improve consistency between general industry and construction standards and that compliance will be made easier for employers in both industry sectors. The requirements to reflect advances in technology are also updated and to make these consistent (both with more recent OSHA standards and national consensus standards), OSHA uses plain and performance-based language for ease of understanding and to offer organisations improved compliance flexibility.

Greater flexibility

The final rule's most significant update is allowing employers to select the fall protection system that works best for them, choosing from a range of accepted options. Reflecting the use of personal fall protection systems in construction since 1994, the final rule adopts similar requirements for general industry.

The rule benefits employers by providing much greater flexibility in choosing a fall protection system. For example, it eliminates the existing mandate to use guardrails as a primary fall protection method and now allows employers to choose from accepted fall protection systems they believe will work best in a particular situation – an approach that’s been successful in the construction industry since the mid-1990’s. In addition, employers will be able to use non-conventional fall protection in certain situations - such as designated areas on low-slope roofs.

Types of flexible options - fall protection

Employers now have the option to employ any equipment, device or system that prevents a worker from falling from an elevation or mitigates the effect of such a fall including:

  • Guard rails
  • Safety nets
  • Personal fall arrest systems
  • Positioning systems
  • Travel restraint systems
  • Ladder safety systems
  • Rope descent systems
  • Any approved device that will eliminate the hazard


Any time a new method or system of protection is introduced at your organisation, all employees that will be working in and around this system must be adequately trained - this means in each specific device and/or method. General fall protection training will not suffice. The training will need to be specific and needs to be done immediately prior to implementation of any new systems.

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Further Information:

Check the OSHA website for requirements on specific systems:

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Tom Lea BScHons, GradIOSH, AIEMA

Tom is Operations Director at Astutis and a Health & Safety consultant with particular experience in the delivery of IOSH, NEBOSH and IEMA accredited courses. He has a proven track record in the delivery of these courses to clients across a wide range of industry sectors including Aviation, Engineering, Manufacturing, Rail and Utilities. With accomplished training skills and experience, his learners achieve excellent pass rates 40% above the national average.