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:
- working conditions such as poor lighting, slippery walking surfaces, and poor housekeeping practices exist;
- protective devices like guardrails are missing;
- equipment such as ladders and scaffolds are in poor condition or not used properly;
- fall-protection equipment is not available, not used, or is misused; and
- work practices are poor due to unclear job procedures, lack of training for workers and workers rushing and taking short-cuts to meet deadlines.
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.
- A roofing contractor was fined $10,000 and jailed for 90 days when a worker fell 21 feet without fall arrest equipment.
- Another company was fined $100,000 when a worker fell from an unstable ladder and died as a result of his injuries.
Employers must implement and use comprehensive fall-protection programs to reduce the risk of injuries. At a minimum, employers should:
- Become familiar with applicable legislation, codes and standards;
- Incorporate safety in work planning;
- Identify all slip, trip and fall hazards at the worksite;
- Put a fall-prevention program in place, including a company policy that outlines rules for housekeeping, lighting, inspections, etc.;
- Train employees in recognizing and avoiding unsafe conditions – how to clean up spills, use fall-protection equipment, install guardrails and use covers on holes in the floor, etc.;
- Provide written procedures for tasks involving fall hazards;
- Ensure that employees know, understand and follow procedures;
- Be clear and vigilant in their health and safety responsibilities and those of their supervisors – they must ensure that rules are followed;
- Provide appropriate protective equipment for employees and train them in its use;
- Continuously evaluate the fall-prevention program, ensuring that policies and procedures are working. If not, improve them;
- If a fall-related incident takes place, investigate it immediately, learn from it, and eliminate the cause; and
- Document all fall-prevention efforts.
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.