A new federal rule will extend a prohibition against using body belts as part of a personal fall-prevention system, even as workers are required to undergo more training on fall-protections systems and fall equipment.
The changes appear to mean little for the construction industry, which has been following similar requirements for roughly two decades.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced plans on Thursday to make various changes to the agency’s walking-working-surface standards, specifically those concerning slip, trip and fall hazards. Beyond the new prohibition on the use of body-belts, the rules will allow employers to use rope-descent systems to lower workers from stations that are no more than 300 feet above a lower level.
These changes will generally take safety rules that have applied to construction contractors since 1994 and extend them to other industries. The goal is to prevent bewilderment over safety standards when workers move from one occupation to another.
Contractors have been following similar safety standards since 1994. The coming change will mean that industries outside the construction, agriculture and maritime sectors will be able to do the same.
OSHA estimates the new rules will prevent 29 deaths and more than 5,800 injuries a year, according to a news release. The changes are scheduled to take effect Jan. 17 and are expected to apply to about 112 million workers on 7 million worksites.
“The final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in an OSHA news release. “OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls.”
Daniel Kaplan, a Madison attorney who provides advice on OSHA regulations and similar matters, said new federal rules that drum up opposition from employers often end up being challenged in court. Kaplan said Thursday that he had not yet had time to fully review the new OSHA rule but believed it would not provoke as much resistance as other recent federal mandates.
There for instance is the so-called “persuader” rule, which requires employers to publicly identify any lawyers or other independent parties whom they’ve consulted as part of anti-union campaigns and similar matters. That rule was blocked Wednesday by a federal district court in Texas.
Similar opposition has meanwhile arisen to a federal rule that would increase the number of white-collar workers who receive overtime. The new requirement, scheduled to take effect next month, will require employers to provide overtime to most employees making up to $47,476 a year.
The Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Association of Home Builders and other construction-industry groups filed a lawsuit against the overtime rule in September.
Kaplan said employers tend to get most upset when they perceive new requirements as setting unattainable standards. That is largely the source of opposition to recently announced rules seeking to further limit workers exposure to silica dust.
This is exactly what groups such as ABC and the Associated General Contractors of America argue for the new rule on silica-dust exposure, which was issued in the spring.
The new standards, which are being opposed by the ABC, the Associated General Contractors of America and other industry groups, call on employers to prevent workers from being exposed to more than 50 micrograms of silica for every cubic meter of respirable air in an eight-hour period. The former rule had limited exposure to 250 micrograms for each cubic meter.
Brian Turmail, a spokesman with AGC of America, said the silica rule is “well-intended but misguided.”
The silica dust rule, “in setting unattainable goals, will do little to improve the health and safety of the construction workforce,” he said. Follow @alexzank