OSHA Updates the Walking-Working Surfaces Regulation

A Great article written by my good friend and President of Pigeon Mountain Industries (PMI), Loui Mc Curley about the latest OSHA updates.

It’s here!

OSHA’s long awaited revision to its general industry standards on walking-working surfaces has been published at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/11/18/2016-24557/walking- working-surfaces- and-personal- protective-equipment- fall-protection- systems. This is the first real update to the rule in decades, and has been underway since 2010.

The final rule, released November 18, 2016 in the Federal Register, more thoroughly addresses such topics as fixed ladders; rope descent systems; fall protection systems and criteria, including personal fall protection systems; and training on fall hazards and fall protection systems. There are now also requirements on the design, performance, and use of personal fall protection systems – a subject heretofore left to industry standards.

It is impossible to enumerate all the important changes in a brief article, so employers and safety managers have a big job ahead when it comes to digesting and implementing the new rule. Here are a few topics relevant to rope access:

OSHA’s Position on Rope Access
In the past, there has been a tendency within the USA regulatory realm to lump “Rope Access” in with suspended scaffolds, rope descent systems (RDS), and other platform based techniques. However, based on the testimony of several commenters, and given that industrial rope access systems (IRAS) differ from bosun’s chair, seat board, or scaffold use, OSHA concluded that IRAS differ significantly from RDS and did not include them in the RDS requirements in final §1910.27(b). In fact, the explicitly clarified in the final §1910.27, Scaffolds and Rope Descent systems, that this category by definition does NOT include industrial rope access systems (IRAS). As such, final §1910.27 does not cover or apply to IRAS. However, other sections of the final rule, including §1910.28, do cover IRAS.

Qualified Persons
There have historically been found two similar but different definitions for “qualified” throughout OSHA standards. In this case, the final rule defines qualified as a person who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience has successfully demonstrated the ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work, or the project (§1910.21(b)).

Wind Speeds
There has historically been much debate over whether the final rule should place limitations on suspended scaffold or other work at height during high winds or inclement weather.  In fact, it is well established that the adverse effects of wind and other environmental factors do not affect rope access any more than they affect suspended scaffolding – and in fact the low profile and adaptability of rope access lend to it being a preferred solution in such circumstances. Ultimately, however, OSHA decided upon a performance based approach in the final rule – that is, employers must evaluate or analyze the worksite and job variables in light of existing weather conditions. If that analysis indicates that weather conditions are hazardous and winds are excessive, the employer must ensure that no employee uses an RDS.

Tool Lanyards
The final rule requires that employers ensure equipment is secured by a tool lanyard or similar method to prevent it from falling. This would include such items as tools, squeegees, and buckets.

Qualified Climber provision
In this new revision, OSHA has eliminated the provision for workers to climb fixed ladders without protection – a practice commonly referred to in industry as “free climbing” (with a different definition than the common recreational climbing terminology.) This is a change that has been working its way through document revisions throughout OSHA regulation, now OSHA has extended this rationale to outdoor advertising.

References to training in the document include language that clarifies that employers must train current workers (as applicable) to the new rules within six months after publication of the document, and that newly-hired workers must be trained before being initially assigned to a job where they may be exposed to a fall hazard.

Further, the rule states that a trainer must have, at a minimum, a “degree” that addresses, or “extensive knowledge” of: the types of fall hazards, how to recognize them, and the procedures to minimize them; the correct procedures for installing, inspecting, operating, maintaining, and disassembling personal fall protection systems; and the correct use of personal fall protection systems and other equipment specified in §1910.30(a)(1).  Employers are free to use outside personnel to train workers.

The subject of knots has long been controversial, with some stakeholders expressing the view that knots should be disallowed altogether.  In the final rule, OSHA held to the assertion that there are times when knots may be used appropriately and safely. It is simply expressed, as with other elements of the safety chain, that those using knots must be adequately trained to properly tie the knot and understand it’s limitations. Any knotted rope is still required to meet the strength requirements in final paragraphs (c)(4) and (5) to ensure that workers have an appropriate level of safety. OSHA also added a requirement (paragraph (c)(6)) that a competent or a qualified person must inspect each knot to ensure that it meets the minimum strength requirements before any worker uses the lanyard or lifeline.

Criteria for D-rings, snaphooks, and carabiners are addressed in Paragraphs (c)(7) through (10) of the new rule. Prior to this revision, the term “carabiner” was not actually used in the document, but OSHA has added it for clarification. The requirement for connectors is that they be capable of sustaining a minimum tensile load of 5,000 pounds, and that they be “proof tested” to a minimum tensile load of 3,600 pounds without cracking, breaking, or incurring permanent deformation. This requirement is extended to gate strength, and “all directions”.

The 3600# gate strength is consistent with ANSI Z359 requirements since 2007, but the term “proof tested” is some cause for consternation. In some standards, including the Z359 connector document, the term “proof test” is used to require 100% testing of ALL manufactured products to some baseline requirement – typically a figure MUCH lower than the actual breaking strength requirement, so as to not inflict damage. It does not seem reasonable that OSHA would require all manufactured units to be tested to 3600#; it is more likely that the intent would be merely to require sample testing to prove compliance. However, the term “proof tested” creates a certain lack of clarity. Hopefully OSHA will see fit to address this potentially misleading and confusing verbiage.

Harness Attachment
Historically fall arrest in the USA has assumed a dorsal attachment. Only recently has a sternal (aka pre-sternal) attachment been accepted in certain limited situations. OSHA’s new rule now acknowledges the sternal attachment as appropriate for use as long as the maximum free fall limit is two feet. While some ANSI standards also specify a maximum allowable force of 900#, OSHA chose not to include this force limit for the sternal attachment, due to a lack of justification and the concern that such a requirement would be “too prescriptive and restrictive.”

It has been said that an appropriate definition of “consensus” might be that “everyone is a little bit unhappy”. By this definition, I would say that OSHA’s long awaited revision to its general industry standards on walking-working surfaces has effectively captured a reasonable consensus from stakeholders who have engaged in it’s review since the draft was released in 2010. There are numerous changes from that original draft, and OSHA is to be commended on the vast amount of work that they put into the document.
The language that is used is much more directed at being performance-oriented rather than method-specific, which is a huge step in the right direction. This allows competent and qualified persons greater latitude in making good decisions based on actual worksite situations, rather than trying to fit a square peg (proscriptive fall arrest) into a round hole (the real world).
Now it us up to us, as employers and users of this rule, to ensure that the systems are designed and approved by a Qualified Person, created by a Competent Person, and appropriate training [is] provided to the Authorized Person prior to use.

For more information on these updated standards feel free to reach out to the Safety LMS team at info@safetylms.com or (512)710-5000