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An Important Message from the Engineers Committee About the New OSHA Fall Protection Regulations

By: The Engineers Committee

As you may be aware, OSHA issued a final ruling on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protection Systems to better protect workers in general industry to prevent fall hazards. OSHA estimates that, on average, approximately 202,066 serious injuries and 356 fatalities occur annually among workers directly affected by the final standard. 

The new fall protection regulations are intended to increase worker safety and limit the number of accidents associated with the use of stairs, ladders, and other elevated work surfaces. The new ruling affects BOMA/Suburban Chicago members as the regulations apply to all buildings and facilities. 

When does the final rule become effective?

The final rule became effective in January 2017, with delayed or phased-in compliance dates for several requirements in the final rule, including:

  • Inspection and certification of permanent building anchorages: November 20, 2017
  • Installation of fall protection (personal fall arrest systems, ladder safety systems, cages, wells) on existing fixed ladders (over 24 feet) that do not have any fall protection: November 19, 2018
  • Installation of ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems on new fixed ladders (over 24 feet) and replacement ladders/ladder sections: November 19, 2018 
  • Installation of ladder safety systems or personal fall arrest systems on all fixed ladders (over 24 feet): November 18, 2036

What are the major changes in the final rule? 

The final rule includes a number of revisions to the existing general industry standards. These changes and new requirements include:

  • Fall protection flexibility (§1910.28(b)). The final rule allows employers to protect workers from falls by choosing from a range of accepted fall protection systems, including personal fall protection systems. It eliminates the existing mandate to use guardrails as the primary fall protection method and gives employers the flexibility to determine what method they believe will work best in their particular workplace situation. This approach has been successful in the construction industry since 1994. The final rule allows employers to use non-conventional fall protection practices in certain situations, such as designated areas on low-slope roofs for work that is temporary and infrequent and fall protection plans on residential roofs when employers demonstrate guardrail, safety net, or personal fall protection systems are not feasible or create a greater hazard (§1910.28(b)(1) and (b)(13));  
  • Updated scaffold requirements (§1910.27(a)). The final rule replaces the outdated general industry scaffold standards with the requirement that employers comply with OSHA's construction scaffold standards; 
  • Phase-in of ladder safety systems or personal fall arrest systems on fixed ladders (§1910.28(b)(9)). The final rule phases in over 20 years a requirement to equip fixed ladders (that extend over 24 feet) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems and prohibits the use of cages and wells as a means of fall protection after the phase-in deadline. There is wide recognition that cages and wells do not prevent workers from falling from fixed ladders or protect them from injury if a fall occurs. The final rule grandfathers in cages and wells on existing ladders, but requires during the phase-in period that employers equip new ladders and replacement ladders/ladder sections with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems; 
  • Phase-out of the "qualified climber" exception in outdoor advertising (§1910.28(b)(10)). The final rule phases out OSHA's directive allowing qualified climbers in outdoor advertising to climb fixed ladders on billboards without fall protection and phases in the requirement to equip fixed ladders (over 24 feet) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems. Outdoor advertising employers must follow the fall protection phase-in timeline for fixed ladders.  However, if ladders do not have any fall protection, outdoor advertising employers have 2 years to comply with the existing standard (i.e., install a cage or well) or, instead, they may install a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system, both of which are cheaper than cages or wells;   
  • Rope descent systems (RDS) and certification of anchorages (§1910.27(b)). The final rule codifies OSHA's memorandum for employers who use RDS to perform elevated work. The final rule prohibits employers from using RDS at heights greater than 300 feet above grade unless they demonstrate it is not feasible or creates a greater hazard to use any other system above that height. In addition, the final rule requires building owners to provide and employers to obtain information that permanent anchorages used with RDS have been inspected, tested, certified, and maintained as capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds per employee attached. 
  • Personal fall protection system performance and use requirements (§1910.140). The final rule, which allows employers to use personal fall protection systems (i.e., personal fall arrest, travel restraint, and positioning systems), adds requirements on the performance, inspection, use, and maintenance of these systems. Like OSHA's construction standards, the final rule prohibits the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system;
  • Inspection of walking-working surfaces (§1910.22(d)). The final rule requires that employers inspect walking-working surfaces regularly and as needed and correct, repair, or guard against hazardous conditions;
  • Training (§1910.30). The final rule adds requirements that employers ensure workers who use personal fall protection and work in other specified high hazard situations are trained, and retrained as necessary, about fall and equipment hazards, including fall protection systems. Employers must provide information and training to each worker in a manner the worker understands.

Additional Resources


The Engineers Committee

Gary Kocher, LEED AP O+M, Chair, Hamilton Partners
Chris Wilimitis, LEED AP, Board Liaison, JLL
Rick Barnett, Millbrook Properties
Brendan Delaney, JLL
Tom Noonan, Millbrook Properties
James Petry, Accesso Services
Tom Tumpane, Cushman & Wakefield

BOMA/Suburban Chicago
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Schaumburg IL 60173

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