In November 2016, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule updating Walking-Working Surfaces standards, with a focus on slips, trips and falls hazards. The rule, which OSHA estimates will prevent 29 fatalities and more than 5,842 injuries annually, is not expected to become a target of President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress as part of their pledge to “eliminate unnecessary regulations,” according to industry experts.
This final rule update, which became effective January 17, 2017 and affects approximately 112 million workers at seven million worksites, is an example of a regulation that is beneficial to both the employer and the employee. Often new regulations are easily dismissed as being “job killers,” but because this rule works on behalf of both entities involved, it is likely to survive scrutiny from the new administration.
OSHA is revising and updating its general industry standards on walking-working surfaces to prevent and reduce workplace slips, trips, and falls, as well as other injuries and fatalities associated with walking-working surface hazards. The final rule includes revised and new provisions addressing, for example, fixed ladders; rope descent systems; fall protection systems and criteria, including personal fall protection systems; and training on fall hazards and fall protection systems. In addition, the final rule adds requirements on the design, performance, and use of personal fall protection systems.The final rule increases consistency between the general industry and construction standards, which will make compliance easier for employers who conduct operations in both industry sectors. Similarly, the final rule updates requirements to reflect advances in technology and to make them consistent with more recent OSHA standards and national consensus standards. OSHA has also reorganized the requirements and incorporated plain language in order to make the final rule easier to understand and follow. The final rule also uses performance-based language whenever possible to give employers greater compliance flexibility.
While these revisions of regulations will no doubt decrease the incidence of slips, trips and falls, they only address certain situations and can only go so far to protect employees. What the regulations don’t address are the intrinsic human factors that affect slips, trips and falls: balance, previous injuries, strength, reaction time, agility etc. To really have a comprehensive fall protection program, both the extrinsic (environmental) factors and the intrinsic (human) factors must be addressed. That’s where Physical Abilities Testing (PAT) and experiential training comes into play. Employers who hire for physically demanding jobs – especially those that require climbing, walking on uneven terrain, climbing over or walking around obstacles – include balance testing in their pre-hire, return-to-work and fitness-for-duty Physical Abilities Testing programs. At the pre-hire stage, employers use the testing to select applicants with balance abilities that are consistent with job demands. For those returning to work after injury or illness, balance testing confirms that balance abilities have recovered adequately for resuming the job requirements. Some companies are incorporating annual balance screening and training to ensure that as employees age, their balance abilities stay consistent with job demands. The good news for the employee is that balance problems can not only be detected before a fall occurs, they can also be improved through training.
Annually, slip, trip and fall injuries cost employers $17.92 billion in direct workers’ compensation costs; indirect costs may run as high as three to four times more. Employers can protect their bottom line and their employees by implementing a pre-hire Physical Abilities Testing program, which can provide a 47 percent lower rate of workers’ compensation injuries in new hires who pass the test.
With or without new regulations, employers can protect their business against the costs of slips, trips and falls by testing all prospective hires and providing testing, training and education to current employees who may be literally just one step away from falling down on the job.
To learn more about Slips, Trips and Falls and see various case examples, download our eBook.