OSHA Seeks White House Approval Of Final Rule Tackling Slips, Trips And Falls

OSHA is asking the White House for the go-ahead to finish a final rule aimed at heading off workplace hazards from slips, trips and falls, taking a crucial step in a 25-year regulatory effort — and moving ahead on a rule the Obama administration has made clear it wants to issue this year despite a string of delays.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) indicates that it received the rule to begin reviewing it, potentially the last stage in the process before the safety agency can move toward final publication. OSHA has pegged August as the target time frame for issuing the rule. OSHA officials had been analyzing comments since August 2011 after proposing a second version of the rule in 2010.

OSHA’s planned regulations, known formally as the walking-working surfaces and personal fall protection systems rule, would put a host of new requirements in the regulatory code to prevent slip, trip, and fall hazards and establish requirements for fall arrest systems. OSHA has noted in its regulatory blueprint that slips, trips, and falls are among the leading causes of work-related injuries and fatalities.

OSHA first published an earlier iteration of the proposed rule in 1990 under the George H.W. Bush administration. OSHA notes, however, that since that time, new technologies and procedures have become available to protect employees from such dangers. The intent of the rule is to update protections to reflect current technology.

The rule has been through a rocky history, however, with stakeholder feedback consistently forcing regulators to go back to the drawing board. It took some 13 years since the first proposed rule came out in 1990 for OSHA to reopen the rulemaking 12 years ago.

“Based on comments received on the 2003 notice, OSHA determined that the rule proposed in 1990 was out of date and did not reflect current industry practice or technology,” OSHA states in an explanation of the rule’s history. The agency published the second proposed rule in May 2010, which officials say reflected current information and increased consistency with other OSHA standards. Hearings took place in 2011.

OSHA’s move to get OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to review the standard means that once administration officials sign off on the rule it could be published shortly in the Federal Register. A new walking-working surfaces standard could yet be a long way off, however, as it remains unclear whether the regulatory gatekeepers’ office will return the rule with any changes within a standard three-month window.

OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab told Inside OSHA Online late last year the walking-working surfaces rule was among several major regulations the agency was fully intent on completing in the Obama administration. — Christopher Cole (ccole@iwpnews.com)