The Magazine of American Municipal Power, Inc. and its Member Communities


What’s New in the OSHA Walking Working Surfaces Final Rule?

4 min read



August 2018

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently updated the Walking Working Surfaces Final Rule for the first time in decades. According to OSHA, the final ruling will prevent 29 fatalities and more than 5,842 injuries annually. It is also predicted to affect approximately 112 million workers in the United States.

So who and what does the final rule cover? The final rule applies to all general industry workplaces and covers all walking-working surfaces. The rule also includes a new section (29 CFR 1910.140) under the general industry Personal Protective Equipment Standards that establishes requirements for using personal fall-protection systems. Surfaces covered under the new rule include both horizontal and vertical surfaces such as roofs, ramps, floors, elevated walkways, stairs, ladders and scaffolding. Typically, when an old standard is revised or a new one is introduced, frustration and burdens (such as financial) are among the reactions by employers. However, OSHA’s updated Walking Working Surfaces Standard actually allows for more flexibility in ways employers can protect workers and reflects advancing technologies and common best practices. The new standard also creates more consistency with the construction standard (29 CFR 1926), which eases compliance by allowing for easier training and oversight for employers who perform activities in both the construction and general industry world.

Already in effect

Although the rule did go into effect on Jan. 17, 2017, OSHA allowed employers additional time to comply with many of the new provisions. For example, employers have until Nov. 19, 2018, to install new fall arrest or safety systems on fixed ladders that are 24 feet in length or longer. An additional 18 years, meaning Nov. 18, 2036, were given to replace any cages or wells used as fall protection on ladders longer than 24 feet with a personal fall-arrest system or ladder safety system.

More flexibility for employers

The new ruling allows more room for knowledgeable employers to select equipment and controls. The original rule called for guardrails as a primary safety device for elevated work surfaces, but now the new standard allows employers the flexibility to choose between a personal fall-arrest system, a travel restraint or a work-positioning system, depending on the situation and what the employer believes to be

As previously mentioned, fixed ladder requirements are phased in (over a 20-year period from the new rule being released) to where employers should have a ladder safety system or personal fall-arrest system on ladders extending 24 feet or more, and prohibits the use of cages and wells as a means of fall protection after the phase-in deadline. OSHA has recognized that cages and wells do not prevent workers from falling from a fixed ladder, nor do they protect them from injury should a fall occur. The rule also contains provisions for portable ladders. Slip-resistant rungs and steps are now required on all portable ladders. Also, portable ladders used on slippery surfaces should be secured and stabilized so that they do not move, shift or extend while work is being performed.

Personal fall-protection systems and use requirements (1910.140)

The new rule now allows employers the ability to use a personal fall protection system (personal fall arrest, travel restraint and positioning systems). However, it adds requirements on the performance, inspection, use and maintenance of these personal fall-protection systems. Additionally, there is a requirement that the employer must be able to provide prompt rescue to employees involved in a fall. To mirror the construction standard, the final rule prohibits the use of body belts as a personal fall protection system.


A major element of the new rule is worker training. The rule requires employers to train workers who use personal fall-protection systems on the job. Training should address how to identify and reduce fall hazards, how to properly use all fall-protection systems that the worker would be required to use, and how to inspect, maintain and store fall-protection equipment and systems. It is the responsibility of the employer to train workers prior to being exposed to fall hazards and retrain as needed. Training should be conducted in a manner that the employee understands. However, it is important to remember that when retraining an employee is necessary, the training should not be conducted in the same manner as the original training, due to the original training being ineffective. AMP’s Member Services safety professionals cover all required training annually during their Pole Top/Bucket Rescue training sessions.

This is just a brief overview of major changes to OSHA’S new Walking Working Surfaces Rule. For more information on the new ruling, options for rescue plans or details on training, please contact John Kasanicky, AMP director of corporate health and safety, at [email protected].

To learn about safety training opportunities, visit the safety programs page of the AMP website.