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OSHA Targets Fall Hazards in new National Emphasis Program
On May 1,2023, OSHA announced the National Emphasis Program (NEP) to prevent falls, the leading cause of fatal workplace injuries and the violation the agency cites most frequently in construction industry inspections. There is a 90-day outreach period, so, programmed inspections should commence on or around July 30, 2023.
The NEP will focus on reducing fall-related injuries and fatalities for those working at heights in all industries. The targeted enforcement program is based on historical Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data and OSHA enforcement history. BLS data shows that of the 5,190 fatal workplace injuries in 2021, 680 were associated with falls from elevations, about 13 percent of all deaths. While there is no expiration date, OSHA will review the NEP within six months to determine its future.
The goal of the NEP is to significantly reduce or eliminate unprotected worker exposure to fall-related hazards in all industries that can result in serious injuries and deaths. To accomplish its goal, OSHA will use a combination of enforcement, outreach to employers, and compliance assistance.
How will inspections be determined?
NEPs are temporary programs that focus the agency’s resources on particular hazards and at-risk industries. Inspections can occur during programmed safety and health inspections, which are scheduled based on objective or neutral selection criteria from both construction and targeted non-construction activities, or during un-programmed inspections, which are in response to alleged hazardous working conditions identified at a specific worksite.
Additionally, Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHO) are authorized to initiate inspections under the scope of the NEP whenever they observe someone working at heights. This can occur when they are driving by or during other OSHA inspections.The NEP does not limit CSHO’s authority by specifying the height someone must be working to initiate an inspection. While such inspections should initially be limited to evaluating worker exposure to hazards associated with falls, a CSHO may expand the scope of a fall-related inspection if injury and illness records, plain view hazards, or employee interviews indicate other potential safety and health hazards or violations at the worksite.
What employers are subject to the NEP?
Potentially, all employers. While OSHA anticipates that most inspections will be in construction, it is important to note that the Falls NEP is not limited to construction. It applies to all industries. All construction inspections related to falls will be conducted under the NEP. For non-construction inspections, the Falls NEP will target the following activities:
- Rooftop mechanical work/maintenance
- Utility line work/maintenance (electrical, cable)
- Arborist/tree trimming
- Holiday light installation
- Road sign maintenance/billboards
- Power washing buildings (not connected to painting)
- Gutter cleaning
- Chimney cleaning
- Window cleaning
- Communication towers
This list, however, is not exhaustive, and for other non-construction work activities where workers are observed working at heights, an inspection may be initiated upon approval by area office management.
How does this affect REPs, LEPs, and State Plans
The NEP supersedes any regional (REP) or local (LEP) emphasis programs that “are substantially similar,” but those with “other elements” can remain in effect. The phasing out of similar REPs or LEPs will take place during the 90-day outreach period. State OSHA Plans have 60 days from May 1 to notify OSHA whether they intend to adopt the NEP or already have in place policies and procedures that are identical to or at least as effective as the federal OSHA program, with final adoption to be accomplished within six months.
How to prepare
Employers, especially those in the construction industry and those performing the specified targeted activities listed above, can expect to see increased inspections and enforcement efforts related to falls in 2023 and beyond. In preparation, employers should ensure they have conducted thorough hazard assessments, developed fall prevention programs, provided employees training on fall prevention, and reviewed their safety policies.
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