Questioning OSHA's Fall Rule

June 27, 2017
How will inspectors define "temporary and infrequent"

During a panel discussion last week at the American Society of Safety Engineers conference, Adele Abrams, an occupational safety and health attorney from Beltsville, Maryland raised the question, “How will they define what that is? This is going to be one of the hobgoblins of this rule."

OSHA's updated  Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems Final Rule, effective January 17 of this year, allows some tasks to be done without fall protection systems as long as the work is "temporary and infrequent."

Unfortunately, OSHA has not provided a clear definition of what tasks it considers to be "temporary and infrequent," leaving questions as to how OSHA will enforce the current fall rule. “It does open itself up to inconsistent enforcement inspector by inspector,” said Abrams.

Specifically, 'temporary and infrequent' is cited in the rule's guidance for work near the edge of low-slope roofs. Under the new regulation, work less than six feet from the roof edge requires conventional means of protection, for example a guardrail or personal fall arrest system. The allowance for temporary and infrequent activity applies to distances from between six feet and 15 feet.

During the same discussion, says other parts of the rule were considered unclear such as the rule’s 20-year phase-out of the use of cages and wells on ladders as a means of fall protection.

Abrams suggested employers keep a record of when and how long crews work on activities that may or may not require fall protection systems until OSHA provides more definitive guidance.

The rule, available here, covers both construction and general industry and aims to prevent 5,842 lost-workday injuries every year.

The supporting OSHA Fact Sheet is available here: