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OSHA Withdraws Long-Planned Rule to Reduce Slips, Trips and Falls

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23, 2016

By Eric J. Conn


In what can only be viewed as another example of OSHA’s inability to effectively advance its rulemaking agenda, the federal agency recently withdrew its quarter-century-in-the-making draft Final Rule to update existing regulations aimed at preventing slips, trips and falls in the workplace from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review.

fall protection
© iStock.com / BartCo

OSHA recently withdrew its draft Final Rule to update existing regulations aimed at preventing slips, trips and falls in the workplace from review.

OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the White House gatekeeper for rules with significant economic impact, reported in late December that OSHA had pulled the rule from OIRA pending further consideration by the agency.

Unless a swift turnabout occurs and the rule is resubmitted to OIRA in the very near term, the rule will not be promulgated before the end of the Obama administration.

A Long History

The Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems rule proposal, colloquially referred to as the “slips, trips and falls rule” proposal, was first issued in 1990. That is not a typo—the proposal has languished at OSHA for more than 25 years.

Eventually, based at least in part on public comments submitted in response to the 1990 proposal, OSHA published a notice to reopen the rulemaking for a second round of public comment in May 2003.

However, because advancements in fall protection technology had far outpaced OSHA’s rulemaking process, the agency concluded that: “the existing proposal was out of date and did not reflect current industry practice or technology.”

So more delays.

wet surface
© iStock.com / RapidEye

Throughout 2015, top agency officials indicated the rule was a top priority and OSHA was on the cusp of finalizing and issuing a final rule to update the requirements to protect against falls in the workplace.

In May of 2010, OSHA issued a reiteration of the proposal, which, according to agency officials, “reflected current information and increased consistency” with other OSHA standards.

OSHA held administrative hearings in January 2011 on the revised proposal, and this time it seemed as if it was actually making headway and would get the rule across the finish line.

OSHA noted in its most recent Regulatory Agenda published in November 2015: “Slips, trips, and falls are among the leading causes of work-related injuries and fatalities.”

An Abrupt Turnabout

Throughout 2015, top agency officials at OSHA and in the Department of Labor Solicitor’s office indicated that the rule was a top priority and OSHA was on the cusp of finalizing and promulgating a final rule designed to update the requirements to protect against falls in the workplace.

Then, only a month after listing the proposal as a high priority in the final stages of promulgation on its Regulatory Agenda—and in a move that surprised even those of us who have been keenly aware of the quagmire of the OSHA rulemaking process—OSHA halted the White House review process without explanation.

While no official word has been issued as to what caused this abrupt turnabout, we speculate that OSHA, and all executive branch agencies have been forced to make hard choices about which rules to advance in the remaining days of the administration—and “slips, trips and falls” did not make the cut.

Reevaluating Priorities

If OSHA, for instance, was given only a limited number of “slots” for rules to receive a green light from the White House before the end of the term, thereby forcing OSHA to choose only a couple to advance, “slips, trips and falls” may have slipped and fallen from OSHA’s must do list.

coiled wire trip hazard
© iStock.com / Voyagerix

Ironically, the “slips, trips and falls” rule was one that likely would have sailed through White House review, and then been promulgated without legal challenge from industry or labor.

As important as fall protection is to Dr. Michaels [Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health], we know that promulgation of the silica rule and the rule requiring electronic submission of injury and illness data are more important.

Ironically, the “slips, trips and falls” rule was one that likely would have sailed through White House review, and then been promulgated without legal challenge from industry or labor. There is little controversy about the need for an updated rule bringing impacted regulations into the 21st century, or at least the second half of the 20th century.

Nevertheless, OSHA seems to have chosen to prioritize silica and recordkeeping data submission proposals, both of which are highly controversial, and, if promulgated, will undoubtedly see legal challenges from industry—if they even make it through the White House OIRA review process during this presidential election year.

Stay tuned for word on whether “slips, trips and falls” will reappear in 2016 as a viable rule, or whether it will remain relegated to the bowels of 200 Constitution Avenue for another quarter century.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Eric J. Conn

Eric J. Conn is a founding partner of Conn Maciel Carey and Chair of the firm’s national OSHA • Workplace Safety Group. His practice focuses exclusively on issues involving occupational safety and health law. OSHA Watch offers general information but should not be construed as legal advice. Employers are always advised to seek appropriate counsel for individual issues. Contact Eric.

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Tagged categories: Epstein Becker Green; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; OSHA; Fall protection; North America; Safety

Comment from John Fauth, (3/24/2016, 8:40 AM)

It would be unfair to single out OSHA for their bureaucratic ineptitude. So although OSHA is the topic of this story, let's not forget they are but one small portion of a bloated government with literally thousands of agencies with levels of inefficiency that would quickly bankrupt them in the private sector. Government is the living embodiment of what would happen in nature if Darwin were proved wrong.


Comment from Curtis Ellor, (3/24/2016, 4:02 PM)

"OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), the White House gatekeeper for rules with significant economic impact, reported in late December that OSHA had pulled the rule from OIRA pending further consideration by the agency. Unless a swift turnabout occurs and the rule is resubmitted to OIRA in the very near term, the rule will not be promulgated before the end of the Obama administration." OIRA, the White House gatekeeper and the Obama administration are the problem...quit blaming this on the Right, deal with the reality of who's the culprit in Washington and stop "hoping" for "change" by making the changes by your votes counting this year. Make some noise.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (3/28/2016, 11:12 AM)

Curtis, this pattern of glacial timelines for OSHA guidelines goes back far, far, far beyond the current administration. This particular rule covers 3 presidents. The bureaucracy in Washington has OSHA on a 20 year timeline for updates and 30 year timeline for new policies....look how long the silica rules have taken. Safety is not a priority in Washington...too many special interest groups and folks trying to cover their butts / save their wallets.


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