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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has very specific rules to protect workers from falls on job sites. From the proper use of fall protection equipment and round slings to making sure all workers have have fall protection certification, OSHA takes this very seriously.

Recently, the agency updated the rules in this area, according to reporting by the Colorado Real Estate Journal. A new regulation that dealt with “Walking/Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems)” was released by the agency late last year. Regulators had been working on revisions to the rules and regulations for fall safety since 1990. The update does not so much change the rules themselves, as they apply to the construction industry, but focuses on the regulations for non-construction industries. It deals with the surfaces these workers walk is supposed to help prevent slip and fall accidents as well as injuries from falling objects.

There is some concern over who will be covered by the expansion of the rule. Typically the rules and regulations that are set down by OSHA are meant to cover employers. The problem, for some, seems to be that if a workspace is considered to be hazardous, anyone’s employees who happen through and are injured will be blamed on the company who oversees the property. Consider this scenario, a commercial property is being worked on. One of the companies who rents space on that property has an employee who is injured due to the hazards from the work that is being done. The company responsible for the work is legally responsible for that injury. This is due to the “Multi Employer Citation Policy. There is some wiggle room here as the specifics of each case may change the outcome of the case. The problem is that the company doing the work is responsible for providing the right fall arrest training, osha fall protection and equipment such as round slings, they may have no contact with the tenants employees, thus they have less of an ability to prevent them from sustaining an injury.

OSHA has stated that the goal of the new rule is meant to take the fall protection rules and regulations that cover the construction industry and apply them to general industry. The expansion of the rules and regulations is very complicated and involved. This rule changes, for instance, the industry standards for scaffolding. It replaces them with the same ones that govern the construction industry.

The new expansion of the fall protection rules also give more flexibility to general industry employers in terms of what kind of fall protection system they want to install eliminating the requirement that they install guardrails. The general industry employers are permitted to use personal fall protection systems, harnesses, round slings and safety nets.

As complicated and far reaching as the new OSHA fall protection rule is, there are some things that the agency stayed away from. Exit routes from a worksite have not been impacted by the new OSHA rule.

OSHA has set the date for compliance with their new rules as January 17, 2017. The issue with that is that there is a significant amount of training that will need to be completed by all employees who will be impacted by the changes. As a consequence, the agency does not expect the real effective date to be May 17, 2017. Some employers will have a problem meeting these target dates given the complexity of the rules and the effort compliance will take.

The new OSHA rule also contains some vague language that has left a lot of employers not sure they will be able to comply with the new rule. The agency is expects surfaces that will be worked or walked on to be inspected often. The language in the rule says this needs to happen “as necessary” but what that means is not clear. This is just one reason that employers are concerned that even if they try as hard as they can to comply, they may not be able to.

There are a lot of kinds of fall protection equipment that can be used. Harnesses, safety mats and round slings make workers all over the country safer and more secure while at work.