The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a direct final rule and request for comments (pdf) on the agency’s update of its Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards related to head protection. Specifically, OSHA is issuing the direct final rule to revise the PPE head protection requirements of its general industry, shipyard employment, longshoring, and marine terminals standards to conform those standards to the requirements recognized in the 2009 edition of the American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection. The rule also updates the PPE head protection requirements for the construction industry “to bring the construction standard up to date and to ensure consistency across OSHA standards.” The agency is simultaneously issuing a substantively identical proposed rule. (pdf) In the event the agency does not receive any significant adverse comments on this proposal or the direct final rule, it will publish a Federal Register notice confirming the effective date of the direct final rule and withdrawing this companion proposed rule.

As discussed in the direct final rule, the general industry and maritime rules “require that the specified head protection comply with national consensus standards incorporated by reference into the OSHA standards unless the employer demonstrates that non-specified head-protection equipment is at least as effective in protecting workers as equipment that complies with the incorporated national consensus standard.” In 2009, OSHA issued a final rule – Updating OSHA Standards Based on National Consensus Standards; Personal Protective Equipment – that did not include any reference to the 2009 edition of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for industrial head protection (ANSI Z89.1), as it was not yet available. The 2009 rule also did not address PPE in the construction industry.

The final rule officially recognizes the most recent version of the standard, but notes that the revisions made by the rule will permit the use of helmets that comply with the three most recent editions of the consensus standard. The rule also removes outdated head protection references in the construction industry standard, and replaces them with those referenced in the general industry and maritime industry standards. Because this sector was not included in the 2009 rulemaking, the OSHA PPE standard for head protection still requires compliance with the ANSI standards issued in 1969 and 1971. Therefore, the direct final rule will permit construction industry compliance with the ANSI head protection standards issued in 1997, 2003, or the most recent version issued in 2009. According to OSHA:

By making the requirements of OSHA’s head protection standards consistent with the Agency’s other standards and with current industry practices, the direct final rule will eliminate confusion and clarify employer obligations, while providing up-to-date protection for workers exposed to falling objects.

The rule includes a side-by-side comparison of the 2003 and 2009 versions of the ANSI standard for industrial head protection referenced in the General Industry and Maritime Industry Standards, as well as a comparison showing the differences among the 1969, 1971, and 2009 head protection requirements for the construction industry.

Comments on this direct proposed rule must be received within 30 days of the rule’s publication in the Federal Register, which is scheduled for June 22, 2012, and must contain the Docket No. OSHA-2011-0184 or Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) No. 1218-AC65. Comments may be submitted electronically through the federal eRulemaking portal, or via fax if 10 pages or fewer to: (202) 693-1648. Alternately, comments may be sent by mail or hand-delivered to: OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. OSHA-2011-0184 or RIN No. 1218-AC65, Technical Data Center, Room N-2625, OSHA, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20210.