Ontario is getting serious about falls. Come April 1, the new Working at Heights Training Program will become mandatory for those who work at heights in construction projects that fall under the province’s Regulations for Construction Projects.
The standard will address rights and responsibilities related to working at heights, hazard identification, ladder safety and proper use of personal protective equipment. The Working at Heights Training Provider Standard has been developed to set out requirements for prospective training providers. Those trained under the current fall-protection training requirements before April 1, 2015 will have until April 1, 2017 to be trained under the new requirements.
The move should come as no surprise, considering that falls are the number one cause of critical injuries and deaths of workers at construction sites across Ontario. The statistics are dismal: Ontario’s Ministry of Labour reports that falls accounted for half of the 21 workers who died in incidents on construction projects in 2013.
In British Columbia, falls from heights from 2004 through 2013 claimed 92 workers’ lives and resulted in 22,610 serious injuries. Carpenters, roofers and labourers have the highest likelihood of falling at residential worksites, with falls from ladders and roofs or scaffolding being the most common. WorkSafeBC launched a campaign last September to reduce the number of falls from heights and partnered with five Lower Mainland construction companies representing 22 jobsites.
Similarly, Alberta’s health and safety officers conducted worksite inspections at residential building sites across the province last summer and focused on the use of fall-protection equipment by roofers and framers. The residential construction sector was also the subject of focused campaigns in 2011 and 2012.
The regulatory requirements regarding fall protection on a construction project, as set out in Sections 26 to 26.9 of the Regulations for Construction Projects, state that constructors and employers must install guardrails or take other protective measures if workers are at risk of falling more than three metres. But it is not uncommon to see workers, especially those working on residences fixing roofs and eavestroughs, on top of houses without safety harnesses. And that applies to non-construction workers as well. This past summer, I saw a pest controller at the top of a bungalow — sans fall protection — looking for openings on the roof where animals could find their way into the house.
Construction work is dangerous for many reasons: physical exertion, high workload, time pressure, exposure to the elements and simply working in an environment fraught with hazards like falling loads, slippery surfaces and being at heights. The year 2015 has barely started, and three Ontario-based companies have already been cited for fall-related injuries or fatalities.
On January 13, New Mex Canada Inc., a Brampton-based retailer of furniture and accessories, was fined $250,000 and two of its directors were jailed 25 days each, after pleading guilty to safety violations that led a warehouse worker to fall to his death in 2013. On January 19, a construction worker employed by Solar Erectors Ltd. sustained serious injuries from a fall at an industrial site in Barrie. On January 27, Jebco Industries Inc., which operates a coatings, linings and moulding facility in Innisfil, was fined $30,000 after a worker was observed working on top of a flatbed trailer without using a safety harness.
The new training program is a step in the right direction. But training aside, workers have to bear in mind daily that while the skyscrapers they build are tall and mighty, the builders are mere mortals who are not above the law of gravity.