OSHA Releases Letter of Interpretation Regarding GI Walking-Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Systems Standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released an August 17, 2017 letter it wrote to Mr. Todd Schlekeway, the Executive Director of the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE), regarding implementation of the general industry Walking-Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Systems Rule, which became effective in January 2017.

1. OSHA stated that there will be no extension of the rule’s May 2017 deadline to provide the fall hazards and equipment training to workers that is required before workers engage in activities covered by the standard. OSHA then noted that the vast majority of the workers employed by NATE employers will not need the initial training required by the rule because they have already received training on fall hazards and fall protection systems under the Telecommunications and Construction Fall Protection Standards, and OSHA believes that training satisfies the new general industry training requirement.

2. OSHA does not believe it is necessary to extend the 2-year compliance deadline for equipping existing fixed ladders that extend more than 24 feet above a lower level with some type of fall protection (i.e., cage, well, ladder safety system, personal fall arrest system).

3. OSHA wrote that, while the telecommunications tower industry is not exempt from the rule’s 300-foot height limit on the use of Rope Descent Systems (RDS), the rule does allow employers to use RDS above 300 feet “if they demonstrate it is not feasible to access such heights by any other means or if [alternate] means pose a greater hazard than using an RDS.”

4. While anchorages used in personal fall protection systems must be capable of supporting 5,000 pounds for each employee attached, a 5,000-pound anchorage point is not required in every situation because the new general industry fall protection standard also includes a performance-based alternative. OSHA notes that, under § 1910.140(c)(13)(ii), the standard’s anchorage requirement is satisfied if anchorages are designed, installed, and used under the supervision of a qualified person, as part of a complete personal fall protection system that maintains a factor of at least two.

5. OSHA acknowledges that the rule’s requirement to “proof test” the gate strength of snaphooks and carabiner is not consistent with ANSI/ASSE Z359.1 – 2007, which does not require manufacturers to proof test the gate of each snap hook and carabiner. Accordingly, OSHA will publish a technical amendment correcting §1910.140(c)(8) so it is consistent with the ANSI/ASSE standard.

6. The rule’s fall protection exemption for pre-work or post-work inspections or assessments (when fall protection is not installed that is available for workers to use) is intended to make the general industry standard consistent with the construction standard.

7. The general industry fall protection standard is, however, not identical to the construction fall protection standard. For example, general industry employers must provide fall protection when workers can fall four feet or more to a lower level (whereas the trigger is six feet under the construction standard). The general industry standard’s fall protection trigger has been four feet since 1971 and it is consistent with the ANSI/ASSE standard. The new rule does not change the general industry standard’s fall protection trigger for consistency with the construction industry’s standard.


Occupational Health and Safety Administration Letter of Interpretation to Mr. Todd Schlekeway of the National Association of Tower Erectors, “NATE Response FINAL [1910; 1910.27(b)(2)(i); 1910.140(c)(13)(i); 1910 Subpart D; 1910 Subpart I; 1910.30; 1910.268; 1926 Subpart M; 1910.268(c); 1926.503; 1926.503(a)(2); 1926.503(c); 1910.30(a); 1910.268(a)(1); 1910.28(b)(9)(i)(A); 1910.140(c)(13)(ii); 1910.140(c)(8); 1910.28(a)(2)(ii)],” August 18, 2017 (released October 2017).