Safety first

New OSHA rules allow flexibility on protecting against falls

Posted on Mar 15, 2017 :: Back Office Operations
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

NEW RULES BY THE U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration have manufacturers taking a look at their current safety procedures.

The updates to OSHA’s general industry Walking-Working Surfaces standards, which cover slip, trip and fall hazards, took effect in January, impacting about 7 million worksites. The new rules will help prevent 29 fatalities and more than 5,800 injuries, OSHA says.

One of the more notable changes is an updated rule that allows some leeway, giving employers the ability to choose the fall protection system that works best for their employees. For instance, OSHA no longer requires guardrails as the primary fall protection method.

That rule change mirrors the construction industry, which has been allowed to use personal fall protection systems, such as a body harness with a retracting lifeline, since 1994.

Other changes may make managing jobs a bit easier for some companies: Under certain conditions, workers on low-slope rooftops no longer need to have fall protection at all times.

There are some caveats, however: The work situation must be infrequent and temporary, the worker must remain at least 15 feet away from the edge, and no other fall hazards, such as skylights, can be present. But that offers some companies some common-sense flexibility.

“Our service group is frequently on our customers’ roofs, and up until now, OSHA basically has said there’s no safe distance from a roof edge,” says Ryan Theunis, safety manager for Bassett Mechanical in Kaukauna, which builds and installs industrial refrigeration and HVAC systems. “You could be out in the middle of the Boeing building in Seattle, and you were still supposed to have some type of fall protection.”

But the new rules also include an update to ladders that will require some change at Bassett, Theunis says. Fixed ladders of more than 24 feet tall must now be updated to add a fall protection system, or old protection systems must be updated.

OSHA is also requiring training for workers exposed to fall hazards. Most of the new requirements were to take effect this month, but OSHA has allowed some delays, including:

• Six months to ensure worker training on fall hazards and equipment covered by the rules

• A year to inspect and certify permanent anchorage for rope descent systems

• Two years to install fall protection or ladder safety systems on new fixed ladders over 24 feet

• Two years to equip fixed ladders with cages or personal fall protection

• 20 years to install ladder safety or personal fall systems on fixed ladders over 24 feet, replacing cages and wells

The new ladder updates and training will cost Bassett and other companies some time and money, and as with any change, there will be people who aren’t crazy about changing procedure. “We’re all creatures of habit,” Theunis says. “We get set in our ways.

“But to look at the big picture, if we can avoid some people getting hurt, we can make our facilities better in the process, and make a more friendly work environment for our employees,” Theunis says. “That’s a positive.”

Bassett has won numerous state and national awards for its safety record and overall instills a culture of safety throughout its company. The company has had 2 million hours without a lost-time injury.

“(CEO) Kim and (former CEO) Bill (Bassett) always say we want to send our people home the same way in which they came in,” Theunis says. “That’s kind of the motto for the Bassett family, so we really look at finding ways of improving the safety of our employees.”

Each year, Bassett reviews its safety procedures, which are considered a living document, Theunis says. The company incorporates any changes for new laws, procedures, policies, or when it adds new equipment.

Bassett has a “100 percent tie-off” rule for heights of more than 4 feet in the shop, using small self-retracting lanyards, Theunis says. “We’re using a personal fall arrest system every day.”

The recent updates to the OSHA rules likely will have a greater impact on industries that have more of a tendency to have slippery floors, such as food manufacturing facilities or dairies, he says.

“It’s not going to change a whole lot in our facility, or how we do things. Overall, I think it’s a positive thing,” Theunis says. “And I think it will help make our industry a little safer.”