It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but companies have just under one month to train workers in the new OSHA General Industry Walking Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Standards. The regulation was released last November. Parts of it took effect at the start of the year, but the training requirements kick in on May 17th.
You can read an overview of the new standard here. OSHA says the rule incorporates advances in technology, industry best practices, and national consensus standards, as well as giving employers more flexibility about implementing some worker protections.
Training: The training provisions say employers must make sure that any workers who use personal fall protection and work in other specified high hazard situations are trained on the fall and equipment hazards, including fall protection systems. They must be retained if there is a change in the workplace or the employee appears to lack skills and knowledge.
Training must be done by a qualified person and must show them how to identify and minimize fall hazards; use personal fall protection systems and rope descent systems; and maintain, inspect, and store equipment or systems used for fall protection.
Safety Stand-down: As it happens, OSHA is holding a safety stand-down to prevent falls in construction from May 8-12. The website for the stand-down has a wealth of information about participating and general fall protection material. Even though it is focused on construction and the changes in the standard apply to general industry, it is a valuable resource.
What If Companies Ignore The Requirement?: That is always a challenge with new OSHA deadlines. There is always a chance that OSHA will call on a facility and ask to see training records as a part of the inspection. But the real risk for companies is if there is an incident. Falls are the leading cause of death in construction and the most cited violation. The change in the general industry standard closely tracks construction.
In other words, falls are an ever-present danger in the workplace. An employer who ignores the new standard and has an incident is liable to be cited for the incident, failing to update to the standard and failing to adequately train workers. Considering the increase in penalty levels that went into effect lasts year, ignoring this update is an expensive gamble.