A Closer Look at Fall Protection: Walking Working Surfaces Final Rule

Posted by Empire Safety on Mar 29, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Walking Working Surfaces Final Rule

Are you Ready?

Calling all general industry contractors and safety managers! Are you up to speed on one of the most recent changes in fall protection?

In January of 2017, OSHA rolled out a Final Rule on Walking Working Surfaces (29 CFR 1910 subpart D and I), a game changer when it comes to protecting your crew. Many times, the tasks that need to be done cross the general industry/construction boundaries and this update eliminates the mandate that guardrails must be used as a primary method of fall protection in general industry. Now employers have greater flexibility in choosing the fall protection that will offer the best protection to their workers. The final rule applies to horizontal and vertical surfaces such as floors, roofs, stairs, ladders, ramps, scaffolds, elevated walkways and fall protection systems.

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These are just a few of the changes in the final rule that address slips, trips and falls at work:

  • Employers in general industry can now choose the right fall protection systems for their workers and the applications, rather than be restricted to guardrails and physical barriers

  • Employers can now use rope descent systems up to 300 ft. above a lower level

  • Employers can prohibit the use of body belts and require body harnesses as part of a personal fall arrest system

  • Employers can now require workers to be trained on personal fall protection systems and other safety equipment

  • All existing fixed ladders taller than 24 ft. must have a cage, well or personal fall arrest system in place by November 19, 2018

  • After November 19, 2018, cages and wells will no longer be acceptable for use as a method of fall protection on new or repaired fixed ladders higher than 24 ft.

  • Employers will have until 2036 to replace all cages and wells on existing ladders and install a ladder safety system

  • Scaffolds must meet construction requirements in CFR 1926 subpart L. Each employee on a scaffold or using a rope descent system, 4 ft. or more above a lower level, must be protected by a personal fall arrest system

  • When working with unprotected sides and edges, employers must use a guardrail, safety net or personal fall arrest system on residential roofs. If this isn’t feasible, employers must develop and implement a fall protection plan that meets construction CFR 1926.502 (k) and training requirements CFR 1926.503 (a) and (c)

  • The use of qualified climbers in outdoor advertising will be phased out, protecting workers from the hazards of climbing to extended heights without fall protection

  • Workers must now be trained and retrained in fall and equipment hazards and fall protection systems before working at elevated heights

While the rule greatly increases flexibility in worker protection, there is also increased responsibility on employers. Inspection of Walking-Working surfaces 1910.22 (d) requires that employers regularly inspect these surfaces and correct, repair and guard against fall and trip hazards. Make sure you review the standard in its entirety!

Important Dates to Remember!

The new final rule went into effect January 12, 2017, but employers have a timeline that must be met when it comes to training, installation, inspection and certification.

May 17, 2017 1910.30 (a) and (b)

Workers must be trained on fall and equipment hazards

November 20, 2017 1910.27 (b)(1)  

Permanent building anchorage for rope descent systems must have inspection and certification

November 19, 2018  1910.28(b)(9)(i)(A)

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       1910.28(b)(9)(i)(B)

Installation of personal fall arrest systems or ladder safety systems on all new fixed ladders over 24 feet

November 18, 2036 1910.28(b)(9)(i)(D)

Ladder safety systems or personal fall arrest systems must be installed on all fixed ladders over 24 feet.


Here are some great products that can help you provide ultimate protection for your workers and address common concerns:    

  • Rescue & Descent System with Rescue Hub, Ladder Bracket and Humidity Case: Controlled descent rescue with added lifting capabilities. Fully automatic, this rescue system is ideal for heights up to 1000 ft. for one 310 lb. user or two users totaling 550 lbs. Has an edge protector that protects the rescue line from contact with sharp edges

  • Protecta® Cabloc™ Ladder Safety Sleeve: Complete hands-free operation on fixed ladder safety systems and arrests a fall within 2 ft. Travels on a 5/16” or 3/8” 1x7 or 1x9 solid core cable affixed to a ladder or pole, utilizing an upper and lower bracket          

  • Nano-Lok™ Edge Twin-Leg Tie-Back Quick Connect Self-Retracting Lifeline-Cable: Specifically designed for foot level tie-off and sharp edge applications. Ideal for direct connect to most harnesses. Locks quickly, stopping a fall within inches. Tension is always kept on the lifeline, which reduces dragging, snapping and trip falls. Many models to choose from to suit almost any application. Built in RFID identification tag helps the user record and store inspection information.


Advances in technology, industry best practices and national consensus standards have finally come together in a way that helps protect more workers, in more applications, than ever before. With more flexibility in choosing fall protection, we should begin to see a drastic decrease in injuries and deaths from falls at work. OSHA has estimated that the changes will prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 lost work-day injuries every year! Fall protection training can help your worker know how and when to use various types of fall protection. Train and retrain often to keep your operation running like a well-oiled machine.

 When you provide the best and most effective safety measures available, you can rest easy. Every worker should go home safe!


  • If you need further assistance, don’t forget that OSHA has Compliance Assistance Specialists and an on-site consultation program offering confidential workplace safety and health evaluations to help your organization stay safe.

Topics: Fall Protection, Fall Protection Training