Tools & Equipment: New Fall Protection Standards

How OSHA and ANSI developments will affect aircraft maintenance

Significant developments have occurred recently within Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) safety standards that will have a significant effect on fall protection requirements throughout the aviation industry.

OSHA has gone through some considerable changes as a result of the Obama administration. Some changes occurring right now or soon to occur are:

  • Increased focus on enforcement of OSHA law under the direction of OSHA’s new Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels.
  • Decreased funding for voluntary protection programs (VPP). As of right now, the Senate has proposed that all funding be cut completely for the popular OSHA program which allows businesses to work directly with OSHA to increase employee protection voluntarily, before any citations or fines take place.
  • The budget for OSHA will increase by 10 percent under Obama’s budget proposal.
  • OSHA is imposing higher dollar value fines and pursuing proposed criminal prosecutions for “willful” violations.
  • Money gained from the sum total of increasing the OSHA budget, raising the monetary value of fines, and directing money away from VPPs will be directed into hiring more field inspectors and increasing the number of OSHA inspections.
  • A new law, “Protecting America’s Workers Act,” has been proposed to expand coverage of OSHA to include airline and railroad employees.
  • OSHA is currently pursuing a major re-write of the 29 CFR Part 1910 for walking/working surfaces and fall protection systems.

New OSHA fall protection laws
OSHA has proposed many changes to the current law. The change of most importance to the aviation industry is the proposed wording change of the definition of “competent person.” Per OSHA law, all organizations that use fall protection must have a “competent person” who is responsible for the day-to-day use, training, inspection, monitoring, and enforcement of fall protection usage. The new proposed OSHA law reduces some of the enforcement requirements of the competent person.

At first this seems counterintuitive because reducing enforcement at the competent person level may appear to lead to unsafe practices. The intent, however, is not to reduce safety but to shift responsibility, and legal liability, more directly onto management and business owners. The objective is to both shield the competent person, who generally tends to be a blue collar worker or supervisor, from negligence lawsuits, and focus responsibility of enforcement more directly onto upper management and business owners.

The new leadership in Washington and OSHA has made it perfectly clear that safety violations will become more punitive in the future with higher fines and stronger and swifter criminal prosecutions for “willful” violations via the “Protecting America’s Workers Act.”

ANSI safety standards
ANSI, on the other hand, has been hard at work developing new equipment and user standards that increase the safety of fall protection equipment and the safety of workers using fall protection.

Although ANSI is a voluntary standard and not federal law, OSHA can site ANSI as a “nationally recognized safety standard” and hence a requirement for providing working safety under OSHA’s “General Duty Clause” OSHA Section 5(a)(1).

Here are some new developments from ANSI that would be of interest to the aircraft maintenance industry.

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