OSHA issues final rule on workplace protection standards

NGFA has concern with rolling stock fall protection provisions and how combustible dust standards will be interpreted.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a final rule updating its general industry Walking-Working Surfaces standards specific to slip, trip and fall hazards. The rule also includes a new section under the general industry Personal Protective Equipment standards that establishes employer requirements for using personal fall protection systems.

“The final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries,” said assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls.”  The final rule also increases consistency between general and construction industries, which will help employers and workers that work in both industries. 

OSHA estimates the final standard will prevent 29 fatalities and more than 5,842 injuries annually. The rule becomes effective on Jan. 17, 2017, and will affect approximately 112 million workers at seven million worksites.

The final rule’s most significant update is allowing employers to select the fall protection system that works best for them, choosing from a range of accepted options including personal fall protection systems. OSHA has permitted the use of personal fall protection systems in construction since 1994 and the final rule adopts similar requirements for general industry. Other changes include 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.  

Jess McCluer, vice president of safety and regulatory affairs at the National Grain and Feed Assn., said there are some concerns with the rule.

“While pleased that OSHA has chosen not to include specific regulations in the revised standard for rolling stock fall protection, we are still concerned that the agency is not recognizing the 1996 Miles Memo, which specifically states that it is not appropriate to cite exposure to fall hazards from tops of rolling stock unless the stock is inside of or contiguous to a structure where fall protection is feasible,” McCluer told Feedstuffs.

“In addition, even though the term ‘combustible dust’ was not included in the final language under section 1910.22(a)(1), the agency contends in the preamble that they continue to ‘interpret’ combustible dust as a walking working surfaces hazard since excessive accumulation is a slip, trip or fall hazard,” he said. 

The NGFA believes the housekeeping provisions in the current grain handling standard (1910.272) – which has been in place for nearly three decades – as well as other existing OSHA standards are working effectively in addressing combustible dust and that the grain, feed and processing industry has an understanding of how to successfully comply.  “Yet another standard would only add duplicative, unnecessary and potentially confusing requirements for the industry,” McCluer said.

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