Employers are all too familiar with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the myriad of workplace regulations, policies, and guidance OSHA administers and enforces on both a national and state level. On May 1, 2023, OSHA added to that labyrinth of guidance when it issued a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) designed to address fall-related accidents in the workplace.
NEPs are temporary and periodic programs that focus OSHA resources on specific industries and pertinent hazards related to those industries. OSHA targets these hazards based on previous inspection data, peer-reviewed literature on the industries and hazards at issue, and reports issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. While the NEP is not a binding regulation in and of itself, it directly references OSHA regulations found in the Code of Federal Regulations that do mandate employer workplace requirements in a variety of industries.
OSHA’s fall-protection NEP focuses on “reduc[ing] or eliminat[ing] injuries and fatalities associated with falls while working at heights in all industries.” Alongside its stated purpose, OSHA emphasized that this focus would not only be for construction-related industries, but for non-construction work as well. Some of the enumerated non-construction activities OSHA plans to inspect include roof-top mechanical maintenance, holiday light installation, tree trimming, window cleaning, and power washing buildings, amongst others.
The catalyst behind the recent NEP, was the release of fall-related fatalities and OSHA inspections data over a seven-year span (2014-2021), compiled by the Office of Information Services and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These statistics noted that, over those seven years, total fatalities resulting from either an employee falling from a substantial height to a lower level, or just a slip, trip, or fall, comprised 13% of the over 40,000 deaths in all industries during the period. In construction industries alone, OSHA found that fall fatalities made up over 32% of the fatalities reported during that span. OSHA also noted that the statistics showed that 31% of OSHA inspections were in relation to a fall. As well, 65% of all construction inspections during that time frame were comprised of fall-related inspections.
In order to address and curtail both the substantial number of fall-related injuries and subsequent need for inspections, OSHA’s stated goal is to reduce exposure to such hazards through regulatory enforcement, outreach to employers, and garnering compliance from those employers. The NEP’s procedures for achieving fall-related injury reduction include outreach programs and informational sessions with employers regarding fall-protection measures, scheduled inspections after that 90-day outreach period, and a direct follow-up—conducted by the Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO)—with the employer regarding fall protection requirements. OSHA will also establish partnerships with employer groups who maintain businesses within the relevant industries, so as to inform employees of their rights regarding fall-related accidents.
Although the new NEP is largely orchestrated to implement new procedures for OSHA inspections to improve workplace safety, employers should absolutely be informed about how they will need to be involved in OSHA outreach programs and comply with any findings made by a CSHO after inspection. Furthermore, the new NEP directly overrides any Regional Emphasis Program that is substantially similar in structure, potentially saddling Oklahoma employers with additional procedures they will need to comply with.
The national NEP covers more industries and more types of injuries, and that means employers need to coordinate with their Area or Regional OSHA office to learn how these new inspection policies might impact their business. For assistance or questions related to OSHA’s recent NEP, please contact Jaycee Booth or another member of the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice Group.