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WISHA Updated Standards

Employers in Washington should be aware of upcoming changes in safety rules established by the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA).  On October 1, 2020, revisions to WISHA, including changes to the fall protection standards will become effective.  These revisions are a reaction to information from federal OSHA to the Washington Division of Safety and Health (DOSH) indicating concern that some of WISHA’s provisions differed too greatly from federal OSHA’s or used language which was unclear.  Since that time, DOSH has reviewed its rulemaking process which has resulted in these rule updates.

One goal of these new rules was to create a unified fall protection standard which applies across multiple industries and eliminate confusion among employers as to which standard may apply to their work.  The new rule revisions remove references to fall protection throughout various portions of WISHA and instead put it into WAC 296-880.  Though most general standards, such as the distinction of fall protection from heights of 4 feet and 10 feet, will remain the same after the change, there are a few changes of substance.

One important new rule is contained in revised WAC 296-880-10015, which provides training requirements for fall protection.  The new rule requires that training be conducted by a “competent person” and that the training teaches, among other things, what fall protection is necessary, how to erect, assemble and inspect the fall protection equipment, and all other remaining requirements of that chapter.  This rule was approved despite objections by some in the industry over potential increase in costs to employers due to this new standard.

Also, the new rules incorporate language from the federal standards which relate to general industry ladders, walking-working surfaces, and protection of holes.  Of note in these changes is the elimination of the former terms “floor hole” and “floor opening” which are now replaced simply with “hole,” along with the definition from the federal standard.  The former terms of “floor hole” and “floor opening” were distinguished as being either 12 inches or smaller or larger than 12 inches.  Under the new standard, a “hole” is defined as a gap or void 2 inches or more in its least dimension.  This will remove the distinction in methods for protection of these holes that existed under the former structure and places protection under the new unified fall protection standard under WAC 296-880.

Some of these changes may change methods that builders must use on worksites.  If your employees perform work on raised surfaces such as on roofs or upper levels, it may be necessary to re-evaluate fall protection system and training requirements on site.  Contractors should review these rule changes and implement any changes to practices and procedures prior to October 1st to ensure compliance after that date.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.