The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) to protect people from fall-related injuries and fatalities while working from heights. As a result of the new NEP – which was announced May 1, 2023 and was effective immediately – employers should expect increased fall-related inspections and enforcement efforts. This is especially true for companies in the construction industry and those involved in certain targeted activities.
Why the Focus on Falls?
According to OSHA, falls from height continue to be a leading cause of work-related deaths and serious injuries. From 2014 to 2021, 5,369 workers lost their lives because of falls to a lower level, representing 13% of all workplace fatalities, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. Falls from heights are of particular concern in the construction industry. During the same span, falls to a lower level resulted in 2,480 fatalities among construction workers, accounting for 32% of all construction fatalities.
What to Expect from the NEP
OSHA’s stated goal for the new NEP is to identify and reduce hazards that are causing or likely to cause serious injuries and fatalities from falls from heights. The agency said it plans to accomplish its goal by stepping up targeted enforcement, increasing outreach to educate employers about fall prevention, and providing compliance assistance. The NEP provides OSHA compliance officers with procedures for locating and inspecting fall hazards and authorizes them to open inspections whenever they observe someone working at heights.
The NEP applies to employers in all industries. However, OSHA stated that the majority of the inspections will focus on employers in the construction industry, which has historically had significantly more fatal falls than any other industry. Other industries targeted for inspections will include rooftop mechanical work/maintenance, utility line work/maintenance, arborist/tree-trimming, holiday light installation, road sign maintenance/billboards, power washing of buildings, gutter cleaning, chimney cleaning, window cleaning, and communication towers, among others.
The new NEP adds to OSHA’s already robust emphasis on fall prevention in its enforcement efforts. Each year, companies are cited for violating the “Duty to Have Fall Protection” standard more than any other OSHA standard. In 2022 alone, there were 5,260 violations of this standard – more than twice as many as the second most cited standard.
The “Duty to Have Fall Protection” standard includes many requirements. These include making sure that working/walking surfaces are able to support employees and ensuring that guardrails or other protective systems are used when employees are walking or working above a lower surface. Safety measures also include shielding employees from falling objects; these may include having workers wear hard hats and barricading the areas to which objects can fall.
Additional OSHA standards that focus on fall prevention include “Fall Protection-Training Requirements,” which was the eighth most cited OSHA standard overall in 2022. This standard focuses on training and education for employees who might be exposed to fall hazards.
Given OSHA’s increased focus on enforcement and the safety risks associated with falls from heights, it is vital that employers have an effective system in place to identify and protect their workers from potential hazards that could lead to fall-related injuries and fatalities.
If you need assistance with an OSHA matter, contact the OSHA lawyers at Sheehy, Ware, Pappas & Grubbs. We have assisted hundreds of employers in OSHA matters, including compliance, investigations, settlement mediation and litigation.