Canadian Contractor

By James Hong   

What Went Hong: Safety for the Fall

Canadian Contractor construction workers roofing safety what went hong

Safety columnist James Hong shares top tips on how to keep your employees safe when working at heights.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour reports falls on construction projects are the main cause of workplace injuries in Ontario. Specifically, framing and roofing jobs are high risk activities for these accidents. The Occupational Health and Safety Act identifies and regulates the employers obligations for keeping workers safe. Training is the number one means of protecting workers. Working at heights not only requires training, it requires experience and close supervision. Employers are responsible for ensuring workers have the proper training and certification for fall protection. Certification training teaches employees to understand the serious risk of injury when working at heights and covers everything from working with ladders and harnesses to minimizing and avoiding fall accidents. The certificates are valid for three years.

Working at elevations without adequate fall protection puts workers at a high risk of serious injuries and death due to falls. The OHS regulations stipulate that when working on an unguarded platform more than three metres from the ground, fall protection is mandatory. This includes training to understand the risks and fall protection systems. If there is any risk of falling three metres or more, the regulation is compulsory.

“When workers are at risk of falling from an elevation in excess of 7.5 metres, the employer must have a written fall protection plan in place and available at the workplace before work with a risk of falling begins.”

Certain steps must be taken to protect workers. Permanent or temporary hand and guardrails are required as a barrier around an opening or edge to prevent a fall. Fall restraints should be used to limit worker’s movements to only as far as the edges of the working area. Fall restraints are configured to a fixed length line to prevent workers from working too close to an opening or roof edge. Each fall-restraint device must have anchorage points with a maximum expected load of 800 pounds and must be engineered capable of supporting 5,000 pounds with safety lines limiting the free fall distance to 1.2 metres.

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Fall arrest systems include a lanyard or lifeline, a harness or belt, and, most importantly, an anchor that protects workers after a fall by stopping the person from hitting the surface below. And, last but not least, the training and availability of safe work procedures to explain risk assessment, preliminary steps for preparation and safe work practices.  

If hazards are found during the hazard assessment stage, the hazard prevention plan must be put in place to minimize the risk using fall-protection measures. These measures include installing walls, floors, railings and standard guardrails and using personal fall restraint or fall arrest equipment. Following the risk assessment, a site specific fall protection plan implementation is required with ongoing training and review as the project proceeds.

WorkSafe BC says, “When workers are at risk of falling from an elevation in excess of 7.5 metres, the employer must have a written fall protection plan in place and available at

the workplace before work with a risk of falling begins.” As we know, not all employers comply with the rules, sometimes simply because they are not aware or the requirement is too much of a learning curve. Whatever the reason, workers must feel empowered to speak up for their right to safety. Not only do they have the right for a safe workplace, they also have the responsibility to inspect equipment for flaws and use fall protection when it is required. 

The full assessment includes worker training requirements, identification of fall hazards, what types and methods of fall protection are needed, procedures for assembly, maintenance, inspection and disassembly of the equipment. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the training is to educate workers on the correct fitting of the equipment. Even if everything else is in place, a poorly fitting harness will not properly protect workers from a fall. It’s also critical to inspect for adequate attachment points on floor openings, guardrails, ladders and scaffolding.

It’s important to remember that not only the workers that are working at heights are at risk of accident injury. Workers passing through overhead active work areas are also at risk. Restricting access to those areas and wearing the proper personal protective equipment helps prevent accident injuries.

Remember, the best fall protection is fall prevention.

Be safe. Be well. 

James Hong is an OHS consultant, writer and journalist.

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