Today, OSHA’s new final rule on slip, trip and fall hazards in general industry took effect. After years of rulemaking, the agency released the final rule in mid-November. OSHA says the rule “updates” general industry regulations for preventing slips, trips, and falls and also adds a new section on personal protective equipment, including requirements for using personal fall protection systems.

OSHA says that the new rule will create more consistency between its regulations for general industry and for construction by allowing employers in general industry to choose from a range of accepted fall protection systems, including personal fall protection, which it has allowed in construction since 1994. The agency also claims that the rule contains simpler language, greater flexibility, and more performance-based provisions than current requirements.

Mandatory guardrails are out. Options for compliance are in.

The rule eliminates the existing mandate to use guardrails as a primary fall protection method. Instead, employers can choose from six accepted options, including: (a) traditional guardrail systems, (b) safety net systems, (c) ladders safety systems, (d) positioning systems, (e) travel restraint systems, and (f) personal fall arrest systems.

The rule also introduces new ladder safety requirements. Ladders must be capable of supporting their maximum intended load, while mobile ladder stands and platforms must be capable of supporting four times their maximum intended load. Furthermore, each ladder must be inspected before each work shift to identify defects that could cause injury.

The safety agency notes that other key changes are: “allowing employers to use rope descent systems up to 300 feet above a lower level; prohibiting the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system; and requiring worker training on personal fall protection systems and fall equipment.” In the rule, OSHA says that it “believes that many employers already are in compliance with many provisions in the final rule; therefore, they should not have significant problems implementing it.”

OSHA claims that the new rule will “prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 injuries annually,” costing $305 million but yielding benefits of $614 million.

The rule, which runs a stunning 518 pages in the Federal Register, is titled “Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems).” OSHA first issued a proposed rule in 2010 and received comments and hearing through 2011. By OSHA’s estimate, the rule will cover “112 million workers at seven million worksites.”

Will the new rule survive?

One big question is whether the new Congress and Trump administration will take steps to undo this rule, among others. We are not aware of the Trump campaign or new administration addressing specific issues in this rule so far. However, during his campaign, President-elect Trump suggested that he would extensively review – and often amend or reverse – regulations and executive orders issued by President Obama.

In addition, U.S. House Republicans sent letters to federal agencies this week to “caution” them “against finalizing pending rules and regulations in the [Obama] Administration’s last days,” promising congressional scrutiny and possible action to reverse such regulations. While it seems unlikely that the slip, trip, and fall rule will be a high priority for early action, it remains uncertain how the new leadership in Washington will respond to this and other regulations.

It is critical that companies review their existing fall protection and safety programs, policies, and training to be sure they are in compliance with the new rule. For guidance on how the new rule may impact your operations or assistance in updating policies to comply with rule, please contact Avi Meyerstein or Amy Wachs.