Falls happen. In Canada, more than 40,000 workers get injured annually due to fall accidents. This represents a significant chunk of “lost-time injuries” accepted by workers’ compensation boards or commissions across Canada. In addition to great economic loss, falls cause pain and suffering and also claim lives.
Despite prevention efforts, workers continue to fall because:
Falling down on the job
In Ontario alone, 10 people died due to workplace falls in 2013. Each of these workers’ families lost a spouse, brother, sister, son, daughter or parent as a result of the fall. Other workers suffered critical injuries such as broken limbs and backs, cracked ribs and head injuries.
All too often, we fail to recognize there is a problem or a potential problem until someone falls in our workplace, or we hear/read in/on the news that someone else has died or been seriously injured as a result of a workplace fall. Don’t rely on luck or good fortune to protect you. All workplaces have a risk of fall injuries – whether they are same-level falls or falls from heights. Unless slip, trip and fall hazards are identified, assessed and controlled, workers will continue falling down on the job.
It’s the law
The ideal method of fall prevention is the elimination of all fall hazards in the workplace. Realistically, this is seldom possible. However, occupational health and safety laws require employers to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers, provide information and instruction and ensure that workers properly use or wear any required equipment. Employers, supervisors and workers can be prosecuted for not complying with the law.
Employers must implement and use comprehensive fall-protection programs to reduce the risk of injuries. At a minimum, employers should:
Accidents waiting to happen?
Falls can be prevented. Workers aren’t falling because they are clumsy, careless or accident-prone. Workers are falling because of poor workplace conditions. Close examination of floors, walkways, catwalks, stairs, scaffolds, ladders, truck beds, rail-car floors, outdoor yards and all other working or walking surfaces will likely reveal hidden slip, trip or fall hazards. The good news is that once they are revealed, they can be controlled.
Cindy Hunter is director of planning and corporate communications at Workplace Safety North in North Bay, Ontario.