Stand Tall – Don’t Fall: OSHA Launches New Program to Prevent Falls

May 2023 • Source: Stephanie Bendeck, Melick & Porter

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a new program which took effect on May 1, 2023, to identify and reduce falls while working at heights. The National Emphasis Program (NEP) is designed to “reduce or eliminate injuries and fatalities associated with falls while working at heights in all industries.”

Why is OSHA so interested in fall protection? The “duty to have fall protection” standard is one of the most frequently violated OSHA standards. It should be no surprise that falls continue to be the leading cause of death for all workers. Across all industries in 2021 according to a comparison of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and OSHA Information System data, there were 5,190 work fatalities, 850 of which were fatal falls (including slips and trips), and 680 of which were fatal falls to a lower level. In 2021 in the construction industry alone, there were 986 total fatalities, 390 of which were fatal falls (including slips and trips) and 378 of which were fatal falls to lower levels. The 3.6 fatal occupational injury rate in 2021 represented the highest annual rate since 2016. Work-related fatalities due to falls, slips, and trips increased 5.6% in 2021 according to the BLS.

What does this NEP mean for the construction industry? All construction inspections related to falls will be conducted pursuant to this NEP. OSHA announced that it will increase targeted enforcement and outreach activities because falls remain the leading cause of fatalities and serious injuries in all industries.

The construction industry is not the only industry affected by this NEP. The NEP affects all industries and will target the following activities: (1) roof top mechanical work/maintenance; (2) utility line work/maintenance; (3) arborist/tree trimming; (4) holiday light installation; (5) road sign maintenance/billboards; (6) power washing of buildings not connected to painting; (7) gutter cleaning; (8) chimney cleaning; (9) window cleaning; (10) communication towers. For other non-construction activities where a worker is observed working from a height, an inspection may be initiated upon approval by area office management. If an inspection is not warranted after entering the site and observing work activities, the Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) will conduct an outreach activity on fall protection and exit the site.

Given OSHA's increased focus on enforcement and the safety risks associated with falls from heights, it is critical that employers have an effective system in place to identify and protect their workers from potential hazards that could lead to fall-related injuries and fatalities.

A link to the OSHA Instruction, Directive Number CPL 03-00-025, can be found here:

If you need assistance with an OSHA matter, please feel free to contact Stephanie Bendeck. She can be reached at [email protected], 617-502-9680.