On May 1, 2023, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) initiated a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to decrease fall-related injuries and fatalities across all work-at-height industries, including tree care.
The NEP is based on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, which reveals that falls continue to be the leading cause of severe injuries and fatalities across industries. To achieve the NEP’s objectives, OSHA will implement a multi-faceted approach, combining enforcement, employer outreach and compliance assistance. While most inspections under the NEP are expected to take place on construction sites, OSHA also has identified arborist/tree trimming as a non-construction activity that will specifically be targeted.
In the official press release, OSHA explains that the NEP offers guidance for identifying and inspecting fall hazards and empowers OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) to initiate inspections whenever they observe workers at height. The instructions also mandate that CSHOs be vigilant for potential fall exposures during both programmed and unprogrammed safety and health inspections. If any fall exposures are present, an inspection will be conducted. Furthermore, CSHOs may broaden the scope of an inspection under the NEP if evidence of other safety or health hazards or violations is found at the work site.
Prior to the commencement of enforcement activities, OSHA requires a 90-day outreach period for employers. During this time, each area office and regional office must develop and execute a comprehensive fall-prevention-awareness outreach program. OSHA suggests various activities to achieve this, such as distributing materials to industry associations for circulation among their members. Area offices also are encouraged to form partnerships and alliances with employer groups, while small businesses are advised to reach out to their local OSHA On-Site Consultation program for support.
For employers operating within an OSHA State Plan state, which has its own occupational safety and health program, the NEP allows six months for the adoption of an identical or alternative program, or confirmation that an equally protective program is already in place. OSHA intends to review the NEP within six months of its issuance and determine whether the policy should be continued.
Review your work-at-height operations before enforcement begins
With 90 days before OSHA commences enforcement activities, tree care employers should use the intervening time to review their work-at-height operations and ensure they conform with OSHA’s June 2021 enforcement memo [Inspection Guidance for Tree Care and Tree Removal Operations | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (osha.gov)] for Tree Care and Tree Removal Operations, as well as the ANSI Z133 Safety Standard.
Josh Leonard is a legislative assistant with Ulman Public Policy, TCIA’s Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and lobbying partner.
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