Game Plan

A 13 Step Guide to Walking Working Surfaces

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: March 11th, 2013
Topics: Ladders | Platforms | Scaffolding | Slips, Trips and Falls |

Walking-Working Surfaces

All workplaces contain some form of fall hazard. That’s one reason falls are the leading cause of workplace injuries. Falls are also a leading source of OSHA fines—3 of the 10 most frequently cited Standards are related to fall hazards, including scaffolding, fall protection and ladders. Unfortunately, the OSHA rules governing fall hazards tend to be technical. But when you boil it down, they require you to take 13 sets of measures to prevent fall injuries.

OSHA Requirements for Fall Hazards

The first order of business is to figure out which OSHA fall rules apply to you. That’s not as simple as it might sound. In the safety industry, many use the term “fall protection” to refer to fall hazard prevention. The problem is that under OSHA “fall protection” refers to fall prevention and arrest systems and their accompanying PPE contained in regulations covering construction, maritime and other industries. Companies in  so called general industry are subject to more general rules which, for OSHA purposes are described not as “fall protection” but by the name of the set of standards in which they’re contained, i.e., Walking-Working Surfaces (29 CFR 1910, Subpart D) (WWS).

13 Step Compliance Game Plan

Step 1: Use Housekeeping to Minimize Slip, Trip and Fall Hazards

Housekeeping requirements include general measures like keeping:

  • Passageways, storerooms and service rooms clean, orderly and sanitary;
  • Floors as clean and as dry as possible;
  • Keeping floors, working place and passageways free of slip, trip and fall hazards like protruding nails, holes and loose boards.

Step 2: Keeping Fall Hazards Out of Aisles and Passageways 

Such requirements include keeping aisles and passageways clean, in good repair and unobstructed. You must also maintain sufficient safe clearances for aisles, at loading docks, through doorways wherever mechanical handling equipment is used and ensure aisles and passageways are clearly and permanently marked.

Step 3: Using Covers and Guardrails to Prevent Falls into Things Below

You must provide covers and guardrails to protect your workers and other personnel from hazards of open pits, tanks, vats, ditches, etc.

Step 4: Ensuring Floors Can Support their Loads

To ensure that floors don’t collapse, you must securely attach in a conspicuous place special plates that list the load capacities of floors used for industrial, storage and other purposes.

Step 5: Guarding Floor Holes and Openings

“Floor holes,” i.e., openings less than 12 inches but more than 1 inch in its least dimension and “openings,” i.e., of 12 inches or more in its least dimension that a person may fall into must be guarded appropriately.

Step 6: Guarding Wall Holes and Openings

“Wall holes,” openings less than 30 inches but more than 1 inch high of unrestricted width, in any wall or partition such as a ventilation hole or drainage scupper, and “wall openings,” i.e., of at least 30 inches high and 18 inches wide, in any wall or partition, through which persons may fall; such as a yard-arm doorway or chute opening.

may fall into must be guarded appropriately.

Step 7: Protecting Open-Sided Floors, Platforms and Runways

You must provide adequate fall protection to any worker at risk of falling 4.0 feet (1.2 m) to a lower level by ensuring that:

  • Every open-sided floor or platform 4 feet or more above the adjacent floor or ground level is guarded by a standard railing or equivalent protection;
  • The railing also has a toeboard whenever, beneath the open sides whenever persons can pass, there’s moving machinery or equipment with which falling materials could create a hazard;
  • Every runway is guarded by a standard railing, or equivalent protection on all open sides 4 feet or more above floor or ground level; and
  •  There are toeboards on each exposed side if tools, machine parts or materials actually are or are likely to be used on the runway.

Step 8: Installing Stairway Railings and Guards

Every flight of stairs with 4 or more risers must be equipped with standard stair railings or handrails of specific dimensions depending on the width of the stairway. Winding stairways must be equipped with a handrail offset to prevent walking on all portions of the treads of less than 6 inches wide.

Step 9: Ensuring Fall Safety of Fixed Industrial Stairs

Interior and exterior stairs around machinery, tanks, and other equipment, and stairs leading to or from floors, platforms or pits must meet specific design and use specifications and be equipped with proper safety equipment like handrails.

Step 10: Ensuring Ladder Safety

The WWS includes detailed requirements governing the design, construction and use of different kinds of ladders, including:

Step 11: Ensuring Scaffold Safety

Scaffolds are subject to design, construction and use requirements. There are specific requirements covering 20 kinds of scaffolds, including:

  • Wood pole scaffolds;
  • Tube & coupler scaffolds;
  • Tubular welded frame scaffolds;
  • Outrigger scaffolds;
  • Masons’ adjustable multiple-point suspension scaffolds;
  • Two-point suspension (swinging) scaffolds;
  • Stone setters’ adjustable multiple-point scaffolds;
  • Single-point adjustable scaffolds;
  • Boatswain’s chairs;
  • Carpenters’ bracket scaffolds;
  • Bricklayers’ square scaffolds;
  • Horse scaffolds;
  • Needle beam scaffolds;
  • Plasterers’, decorators’ & large area scaffolds;
  • Interior hung scaffolds;
  • Ladder-jack scaffolds;
  • Window-jack scaffolds;
  • Roofing brackets;
  • Crawling board or chicken ladders; and
  • Float or ship scaffolds

Step 12: Ensuring Safety of Mobile Scaffolds and Work Platforms

As with ladders and scaffolds, there are detailed equipment-specific requirements that apply to scaffolds and work platforms that are “mobile,” i.e., manually propelled.

Step 13: Ensuring Fall Safety of Other Working Surfaces

Such surfaces for which special rules apply include:

  • Dockboards, i.e., bridge plates;
  • Forging machine areas; and
  • Veneer machinery areas.