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New OSHA standards aim to reduce falling accidents

Falls are still the leading cause of construction fatality

Updated standards relating to fall protection and slip-and-fall hazards should save lives and prevent thousands of injuries, says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This is welcome news for construction workers, roofers, painters, window washers and others who work at elevation or on slippery surfaces.

OSHA already allows personal fall protection systems in construction work. The new rules, which go into effect Jan. 17, provide additional options and safety measures. Falling accidents are one of the "Big Four" causes of injury and death in the building trades and industrial jobs.

Employers and property owners who fail to provide safety equipment or adhere to the new standards can be held liable for damages, above and beyond the benefits of New York workers' comp.

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New OSHA rules will benefit construction and general industry workers

OSHA projects the updated "final rule" will save 29 lives and prevent some 5,800 injuries each year. Several of the new provisions specifically apply to construction sites and scaffolding work:

  • Fall protection in specific situations, including hoist areas, wall openings, stairways, scaffolds and areas above dangerous equipment
  • Fall protection for fixed and portable ladders
  • Mandatory body harnesses (and prohibition on body belts) in personal fall arrest systems
  • Safety features for rope descent systems, including roof anchors, carabiners/shackles, a 300-foot height limit, and periodic inspection
  • Employee training/retraining on fall hazards and personal fall protection

The revised OSHA standards addressed contradictions and ambiguous language in the old rule, substituting plain English wording that is clear to workers and employers. Employers now have more flexibility regarding fall protection systems that best fit the situation, as opposed to the old rule that required guardrails as the primary safety measure for working at heights.

While many of these provisions were already in place for the construction industry, the update will make the rules clearer, work sites safer and employers more accountable. It also improves working conditions for general industry; many construction workers are not currently protected in second jobs, side jobs or off-season work that involves ladders or heights.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor news release

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