OHS Canada Magazine

Feature

A Firm Footing On Change

It has been around for more than 40 years and has undergone multiple revisions. But now the Canadian standard for gear at the foot of personal protection, the safety boot, is receiving yet another shi...


It has been around for more than 40 years and has undergone multiple revisions. But now the Canadian standard for gear at the foot of personal protection, the safety boot, is receiving yet another shine.

“We have been expanding it to cover off more and more different types of protection and safety factors in footwear,” says Dave Shanahan, a project manager for the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) in Mississauga, Ontario, referring to the protective footwear standard, CSA-Z195. The initial standard, introduced decades ago, focused only on impact to the foot, but has since been enhanced to account for hazards such as puncture, crushing, electricity and static discharge.

And last November, even more changes were made. Shanahan says there are some key differences between the 2002 (previously the most current) and 2009 versions, notably the guidance on slip resistance and performance requirements for metatarsal guards, which offer protection to the top of the foot.

With the arrival of the updated CSA-Z195, employers may be asking themselves if a legal obligation exists to adopt the new bits and pieces posthaste — a question that would arise with any new or revised standard.

The answer is not immediately obvious and, like other occupational health and safety legal matters, it may boil down to due diligence. “Standards are voluntary and are taken to represent best practice,” says Jeremy Warning, a senior associate at Heenan Blaikie LLP in Toronto. Unless a standard is referenced in applicable oh&s legislation, says Warning, “there is, strictly speaking, no legal obligation on an employer to ensure that they follow the standard.”

Diligence is best

Landon Young, a partner at SBH Management Lawyers in Toronto, agrees, although he offers one “but.” Legislation does not cover “every imaginable workplace safety issue. There are holes and there are areas of interpretation,” Young notes. To fill any gaps, regulators will often rely on a standard both as best practice and as a “benchmark for enforcement,” he says.

“Because the standard can represent best practice,” Warning adds, “the employer may well be required to comply with the standard under its general duty to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers.”

For an effective defence, says Young, an employer should be able to demonstrate the standard was being followed, not simply that it was referenced in a company safety policy.

In some instances, jurisdictions cite particular standards, but may not stipulate that the newest version must be followed. Warning says some provinces may have interpretive legislation that automatically incorporates the latest versions of any standard.

Absent such legislation, “the employer would not need to immediately strive for the new standard,” he says, although due diligence dictates an employer should consider doing so.

“Anytime a standard increases or ups the safety level, we encourage [construction employers] to look at it,” says Bill Johnson, executive director of the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association (SCSA) in Regina. The SCSA notifies its membership about standards-related developments via newsletters and bulletins, Johnson says.

To his mind, Shanahan sees it as sensible to follow the newest edition, noting that each updated version represents an improvement on the past. And while changes in some standards are incremental, in others “we come up with criteria that is totally different than the previous edition.”

Even if employers take the view that they should adhere to the latest guidance, they may not be able to do so immediately. As Shanahan notes, it can take a year or two for products to come into line with the most current versions of standards.

In the interim, employers should not make the mistake of equating adherence to a standard with legislative compliance. Pointing to the example of machine guarding, Warning says that meeting the relevant standard “will not necessarily mean that the employer has not breached the applicable oh&s guarding requirements.”

In Ontario, for instance, “the courts have held that a machine is guarded if both advertent and inadvertent access to moving parts and pinch points is prevented — not if a particular standard has been [met],” he says.

Dan Birch is assistant editor of OHS CANADA.

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Top Guard

One might say the newest version of the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA) protective footwear standard takes care of some unfinished business.

The older, 2002 edition of CSA-Z195 included design demands for metatarsal guards, which protect the top of the foot, but not performance requirements, says Dave Shanahan, a project manager at the CSA in Mississauga, Ontario. Design obligations set out the size and location of the guards, but not the minimum impact threshold.

“In theory, you could have had a piece of tin foil over top the footwear and called that a metatarsal guard,” Shanahan quips. Now, Plasticine in the shape of a foot will be placed inside the footwear and an impact to the metatarsal guard applied. That will allow testers to measure the amount of energy being transmitted to the top of the foot.

Similar to the development of a slip-resistance test, it took time to create an acceptable check for metatarsal-impact measurement, he says, noting that CSA consensus standards must receive buy-in from many stakeholders.

The minimum threshold in the revised standard has, in some instances, resulted in footwear companies enhancing the protective strength of their guards, Shanahan adds.

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Slip Happy

It has been a “long time coming,” Dave Shanahan, a project manager for the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) in Mississauga, Ontario, says of the new slip-resistance criteria now included as part of the CSA’s revised standard on protective footwear.

Shanahan reports that the CSA first received requests to get a grip on slip resistance about 15 years ago. “Although the desire was there from safety professionals and people in the industry, we just did not have the wherewithal to be able to set it out in a standard in a very exacting manner,” he says.

Another motivation was that so many claims were being made in the marketplace about “slip resistance based on all kinds of different test methods,” he says, adding the consumer had no idea as to the basis of the claims.

Before the subject could be addressed, Shanahan says that CSA officials wanted to see further development in the science and testing methods related to slip resistance. Numerous environmental factors — slope degree, type of surface and presence of ice or snow, to name a few — came into play. “All of these things presented different slipping mechanisms that made the whole subject area very complicated,” he says.

In the last decade, the CSA has encouraged research on the topic and has worked with partners in the United States and Europe, Shanahan says. The efforts came to fruition with last November’s release of the 2009 version of CSA-Z195.

Rather than using a pass/fail system, the standard’s slip-resistance criteria provides for six separate ratings of resistance. The rating is expressed as a coefficient of friction — the higher the number, the better the resistance. The values are broken down as follows: performance on wet stainless steel, wet quarry tile and dry quarry tile. A rating is provided for both the footwear’s heel-contact area and plate-strike area.

The CSA opted for a rating system for a couple of reasons, Shanahan says. One, the testing criteria is not representative of all the possible slipping surfaces. Two, “different situations demanded different levels of slip resistance,” he says.