Proposed Fall Protection Rule for General Industry—2016

Fall-related fatalities continue to be the leading cause of death in the construction industry. In fact, according to, falls from elevation accounted for 291 construction fatalities in 2013. Furthermore, fall prevention safety standards were among the top ten most frequently cited OSHA standards in 2014. (2)
Fall-related injuries and fatalities do not only impact the construction industry; they also consistently affect general industry workers each year. These workers are covered by OSHA’s 1910 General Industry clause, which applies to a variety of different applications and work environments.

OSHA’s 1910 General Industry clause currently outlines fall protection rules that apply directly to the general industry. The current applicable rule is outlined in Subpart D: Walking-Working Surfaces. While the standard itself has been called “outdated” for many years, it does outline fall protection requirements at four feet for general industry and six feet for construction.

According to OSHA 1910.23(c) (1)(i-iii)—General Industry:

Every open-sided floor or platform four feet or more above adjacent floor or ground level shall be guarded by a standard railing (or the equivalent as specified in paragraph (e)(3) of this section) on all open sides except where there is entrance to a ramp, stairway, or fixed ladder. (1)

In other words, general industry employers only have to provide guardrails to be fully compliant with OSHA’s four-foot mandate. Although the construction industry regulation provides multiple fall protection options for a variety of applications, OSHA’s 1910 General Industry clause continues to imply that all workers can be protected using guardrails and guardrails alone. But, many companies who fall under general industry know that guardrails alone do not offer enough flexibility. General industry is—just as the name implies—very general. There are hundreds of applications that require a variety of fall protection solutions that go far beyond guardrails: vertical lifeline systems, which are often needed for climbing upwards on a building structure or scaffolding; overhead enclosed track fall protection systems, which protect workers in the transportation, aviation, and many other industries; and portable enclosed track fall protection systems, which are necessary to protect workers who move from one jobsite to another.  

To help employers traverse the confusion of finding and installing the proper fall protection solution, OSHA has provided options through other means, aside from 1910 General Industry, including directives, proposed rules, and letters of interpretation. But, all of it can be fairly difficult to navigate, so let’s take a closer look!

Personal Fall Arrest Systems—Routine Work

In a 1984 Directive for General Industry, OSHA indicated that the use of personal fall protective equipment (PFAS) is permitted on surfaces where workers are exposed to a fall hazard greater than four feet, and in situations where workers must complete unpredictable tasks on a regular basis. This clarification is further defined as any work that is completed at least once every two weeks OR for a total of four hours or more during any four-week period. This directive basically permits the use of Personal Fall Arrest Systems in non-predictable and/or irregular situations. (1)

Proposed Rules—What’s NEW?

In 1990, OSHA issued a Proposed Rule to update Subparts D and I of 29 CFR 1910 to provide protection options to employers. This update includes fall protection use in predictable situations as well. Unfortunately, the proposed rule sat untouched for another 13 years, until it was reopened in 2003 for review. In 2005, it was determined that the set of rules proposed in 1990 were out of date, and OSHA redrafted them due to emerging fall arrest technology and innovative fall prevention techniques. This redraft resulted in a 2010 proposal that is still under consideration to this day. OSHA’s objective is to correspond closely with Construction’s Subpart M to permit PFAS use beyond non-routine circumstances, proposing a rule that would instead provide employers with more versatility in their fall protection solutions. Proposed Subpart D 1910.28(b) includes:

  • Guardrails
  • Designated areas
  • Safety net systems
  • Travel restraint systems
  • Personal fall arrest systems

In the spring of 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Administrative published a notice of the 2010 proposed rulemaking on subparts D and I (29 CFR 1910), which contains occupational safety standards for general industry. According to OSHA’s 2010 proposal

A leading cause of worker-related injury and death comes from employees slipping, tripping, or falling from work surfaces such as floors, platforms, portable and fixed ladders, stairs, and ramps. Employees may be exposed and unprotected from these hazards or may have a protection system in place but are using that system incorrectly. OSHA believes the proposed rule will substantially reduce worker-related injuries and deaths. (4)

To quantify the list of changes to Subparts D & I:

  1. Subpart I contains standards for personal protective equipment (PPE), but it doesn’t address personal fall protection systems. The amended Subpart I does include a section titled “Personal Fall Protection Systems”, which covers new PFAS requirements to “provide criteria on the proper use of personal fall protection systems when used by the employer.” (3)
  2. Subpart D contains standards for walking-working surfaces (as cited above), and was adopted in April of 1971. The primary sources for the original implementation of subpart D came from a 1971 edition of ANSI consensus standards. There has been little to no change to the standard since its initial adoption. But, in 1973, OSHA published a proposed revision of subpart D that was quickly withdrawn three years later because, according to OSHA, it had become outdated. That’s why, in 1990, OSHA attempted to publish another proposed rule to reorganize, clarify, and update subpart D and add personal fall protection requirements to subpart I—which regulates PPE (personal protective equipment). Nothing came of the proposal, and it remained untouched until 13 years later.
  3. In 2003, the record was reopened, raising several crucial issues. Once again, OSHA fought to have the 1990 proposed rule updated, citing that it was outdated and needed to address new technology and equipment. It wasn’t until 2005 that the decision was made to completely redraft the proposed rule. Even so, the 1990 proposal was never withdrawn and is still on record today. (3)
  4. In 2005, the 2003 proposed rule was determined to be out of date. It was then redrafted to include new fall arrest technology and fall prevention techniques. This redraft resulted in a May 2010 proposal that is still under consideration today.

The proposed 2010 rule is meant for general industry and does not include provisions applicable to the construction industry. It makes no reference to protection, such as controlled access zones and safety monitors, which, according to ISHN are “two very common systems employed by workers engaged in very specialized construction work.” (1)  As an updated rule, it does include useful practices for general industry, which are not noted in the construction industry standard. These practices include practices like designated areas and travel restraint systems that prevent workers from reaching a leading edge.

Looking to the Future

On July 2, 2015, OSHA sent a revised proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for final review, which often takes up to 90 days to complete. This rule implied that general industry facilities would have an outlined comprehensive fall protection rule by mid to late October. However, the OMG has since delayed the estimated release date to April 2016, according to OSHA’s fall 2015 regulatory agenda. (4)

Implementing the new proposed rule would allow general industry to look beyond Subpart M (construction) for fall protection solutions. In fact, a letter of interpretation written in January of 1997 states: “The Subpart M fall protection requirements under 29 CFR 1926 Construction standards may not be used to meet the provision of fall protection equivalent to guardrails under paragraph1910.23(c)(1).” (5) OSHA’s Notices of Proposed Rulemaking on Walking and Working Surfaces and Personal Protective (Fall Protection) Systems was published in Volume 55, Number 69 of the Federal Register (FR) on April 10, 1990, and is intended to be used and expanded in 2016. (3)

The general industry proposed rule can be found on OSHA’s web site by selecting “Fall Protection” from their A-Z Index list at the top of the homepage and clicking on “Non-Construction Standards and Policies”; the proposed rule is located under the header “OSHA Federal Registers”. In the meantime, we will just have to wait and see if these proposed rules will finally take effect, thereby helping general industry companies locate and install effective fall protection equipment to keep their workers safe at height in any number of specific applications.


  1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Fall Protection in General Industry 29 CFR 1910.23(c)(1), (c)(3) and 29 CFR 1910.132(a).” Directive Number: STD 01-01-013. 16 April 1984.
  2., URL: January 4, 2016.
  3. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration, “Fact Sheet: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Subparts D and I”; URL: Spring 2010.
  4. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction.” URL: July 19, 2015.
  5. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Fall Protection Requirements in the Construction Standard.” Letter of Interpretation to Susan R. Geir. URL:, January 16, 1997.

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Kristina Harman

Senior Technical Writer |
Kristina Harman was formerly a senior technical writer and content manager for Rigid Lifelines, a division of Spanco, Inc. Kristina has twelve years of experience in content development, technical communications, and copyediting. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in English from Towson University and a Master of Education Certification in English from Johns Hopkins University. She is a member of the Society for Technical Communication and the American Medical Writers Association.