OHS Canada Magazine

Keeping workers stable amid changes to fall protection

Experts discuss latest legislation, innovation, products


On July 23, OHS Canada hosted a Fall Protection Roundtable, hosted virtually in Toronto. Sponsored by Pure Safety Group, the event brought together Canadian safety experts to discuss the latest legislation, innovation and products in fall protection. (Pure Safety Group)

Falls continue to be a leading cause of workplace injuries, leading to reduced work time and fatalities.

In 2018, 66 workers died as a result of falling at work, accounting for six per cent of the 1,027 workplace deaths reported that year. During the same time, nearly 20 per cent of lost time claims filed in that year were connected to falls at work: 51,800 of the 264,000 lost time claims from 2018 were because of injuries sustained in a workplace fall.

Proper equipment, correctly used and diligently maintained, is crucial in any workplace’s plan to keep workers safe and productive. But changing standards and differing regulations can make compliance confusing for safety managers.

Changing standards

A year after the latest CSA standard on self-retracting devices came into effect, people are still confused about which self-retracting device (SRD) or self-retracting lifeline (SRL) is suited for which job.

This new standard, Z259.2.2-17, which came into effect in August 2019, “specifies the requirements for all self-retracting devices (SRDs) used as connecting components in fall protection systems.”

It further changes the classification of SRDs. Before, there were three classes: Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3. The new standard creates four different kinds: Class SRL, Class SRL-R for those that can be used when rescuing someone by raising and lowering them, Class SRL-LE for those that can be used on a leading edge, and Class SRL-LE-R, which is a combination of the SRL-R and the SRL-LE.

Click here for full information on Pure Safety Group’s Fall Protection Roundtable.

“We’re seeing a lot of confusion still,” says Patrick Lawlor, president of Lawlor Safety in Hamilton, Ont.

The standard also changed the requirements for inspection. Now, inspection is the job of the designated competent person in the company to determine how the devices are being used and how they should be classified, explains Rick Tunks, safety program manager at HD Supply Brafasco.

The changes are “basically leaving it up to the company to come up with how they’re going to classify these devices themselves,” he says. A product’s classification determines how often it needs to be recertified, says Tunks.

These aren’t the only standards changes that have caused some confusion. In February, a new standard for personal energy absorbers and lanyards came into effect. This standard, Z259.11-17 changed weight restrictions and testing requirements.

“It kind of shook up what we were traditionally manufacturing in terms of weight recommendations on lanyards,” says Ryan West, territory sales manager for Pure Safety Group (PSG). The new testing, regulations, and safety standard caused manufacturers to go “back to the drawing board,” he says. New products are being released to comply with the changed standards, and this means customers need to be educated about compliance.

There are some things customers can do to ensure they’re following the standards. Documentation is key when inspecting equipment, says West. This is especially important with the new SRD standard that makes classification of SRLs, which determines the frequency of inspection, a responsibility of the company purchasing the equipment.

“Document when you’re putting your SRLs into use. Document them on their inspections,” says West.

Different employees could classify the same product differently.

“Make sure that you’re documenting it. Make sure that you’re keeping track of the units that you have out in the field so you can better understand when you need to certify them.”

While safety specialists can help explain standards and show consumers which products meet the new requirements, the users are responsible for making sure they use their safety equipment properly.

Even if a product has the best safety features, accidents will happen if the user doesn’t follow the directions, or uses a product in a way it wasn’t intended. For example, SRDs that are meant to be used vertically can’t be used horizontally.

“From a manufacturing standpoint, we can put all sorts of features and benefits in a product to make it user-friendly, and to make it more safe for the user, but if they’re not installing it properly, if they’re not following the instructions that we put with our products, it’s not going to do you any good,” says West. “Accidents are still going to happen that way.”

There’s a reason safety courses emphasize instruction manuals, says Tunks. “If you’re not reading the manual, you’ve lost.”

Leading edge

It’s important to stay connected with associations and companies that provide reliable, up-to-date information about updates to standards because some standards can be hard to understand.  This is true of the leading-edge classification in the new CSA standards for SRDs.

“Leading-edge application is anywhere there’s a risk of fall and your lifeline hitting the edge that you’re working on,” explains West, noting that it is a very specific classification.

The calculations for determining if something is leading edge can be fairly complicated, says Tunks. “It’s not cut-and-dry.”

When people don’t understand the standard, they use their equipment improperly, and that can result in accidents.

“The standards address a lot of the major issues: the stress being put on the worker or the stress being put on the equipment,” says Lawlor. “One thing that I always go back to customers on is the fall clearance. Leading edge equipment is going to add another shock absorber between the user and the SRD device, so that can add up to 47 inches of fall clearance that the customer needs to be aware of and make sure they’re not hitting any sort of object or structure while they’re working.”

Enhanced fall protection is one reason why many consumers are opting to buy self-retracting devices instead of traditional lanyards. “The fall clearance is going to be less,” says Lawlor.

“Traditionally, (SRDs and SRLs) are a little bit more expensive than buying a lanyard,” acknowledges West. “But the safety features that go into them far outweigh that price point, that price difference. Safety managers feel a lot better when their workers are attached to an SRL as opposed to a traditional lanyard.”

Having the proper safety equipment is especially important because safety plans are legally required in some jurisdictions. Just as education about standards is key when determining what equipment to purchase and how to buy it, safety managers need to educate themselves about a job’s potential hazards before they develop their safety plan.

“Know your hazard,” Lawlor says, summarizing the advice he gives to his customers about making safety plans. “Know what you’re doing. Identify anything that could possibly happen and plan for the worst in a lot of situations.”

“Identifying the hazard, that’s the main thing,” says Tunks. “Pick the right product to protect the worker and then make sure the worker’s trained on the product.”

Dropped objects

One of the biggest hazards to plan for is dropped objects. Injuries don’t just happen when workers fall. They also happen when objects, like tools, fall on them. Injuries sustained by a dropped object account for a large portion of lost-time claims, and can also lead to death.

Workers should always tether their tools so they don’t fall. One dropped object has the potential to hurt many people, cautions West.

“A lot of these (injuries from) dropped objects aren’t a result of a direct hit straight down,” he says. “A lot of them come from deflections. For example, if you have a wrench going down and it hits a scaffold, then it can deflect.”

Even if no people are hurt, falls damage equipment, and that can reduce work performance.

“Who wants to wreck a brand-new impact drill dropping it from on high?” he says. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Despite this, many companies and worksites don’t have policies mandating tools be tied during work. In some cases, a general contractor may have a policy requiring this, but sub-contractors don’t enforce similar policies. Practically, however, says Lawlor, there’s no reason why workers can’t secure their equipment.

“With the number of new solutions, you can find an attachment point for any type of tool. There’s no excuse not to have your tools tethered,” he says.

Manufacturers realize some workers don’t want their tools tethered to them unless it’s mandatory. That’s why tape that enables workers to secure their tools only when required is popular, says West. He can inspect worksites to see how to best protect equipment.

Everybody really should be tethering off their tools when they’re working at heights,” he says.  “It’s a no-brainer.”

Keeping workers safe during accidents

Workplace protection plans are required, and they need to consider how to protect workers in confined spaces, where falls can happen. Winches are especially helpful for lifting people in and out of manholes, says West. It’s also useful to have equipment suited for horizontal and vertical extractions.

This equipment needs proper maintenance.

“A lot of (people) take the confined spaces equipment for granted and it gets thrown onto the back of the truck with the shovels and the other work gear, instead of treating it as a piece of safety equipment,” says Lawlor. Rescue equipment is designed to be inspected after every time it’s used, he says. Infrequent maintenance can be dangerous.

There also needs to be proper equipment to keep workers who are rescuing others safe. Self-contained breathing apparatuses are key for protecting rescuers, says Lawlor. There needs to be more than one in case someone gets hurt.

“Redundancy is important,” he says.

So is training. The best plans and equipment become useless if workers aren’t trained about how to follow them, says West.

“It’s one thing to have it documented,” he says. “It’s another thing when you’re put in that situation as a worker. I don’t know how other people would react, but I know if I was put in a confined space and something happened, without training I would be losing my mind.”

Current challenges and future trends

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused workplaces to consider how proper hygiene contributes to occupational safety. Safety distributors can help customers identify the proper equipment needed to ensure each worker has their own safety equipment, like harnesses. They also know how to best clean and disinfect materials.

West compares protecting soft equipment, like harnesses and lanyards, to keeping produce safe. “If you leave it out and exposed to the elements, it’s going to deteriorate faster,” he says. “If you have a bag or storage for it, it’s going to last you a lot longer and it’s going to be better maintained.”

Beyond the current pandemic, safety distributors are developing ways to make it easier for workers to use safety equipment properly. Harnesses are being designed so chest straps stay in place and with extra padding for comfort. Some padding is removable and able to be machine washed, increasing cleanliness.

New PSG harnesses have webbing with contrasting colours that makes it easier to see frayed material that needs to replaced. Manufacturers are also creating ways to better track equipment, like having equipment that can be scanned. Other products use technology to record how equipment is being used.

Still, gathering the perspective of an external professional can be one of the best ways to determine what equipment and plans will keep workers safe on the job.

“We’re here to help,” says Tunks. “Whether it’s working at heights, whether it’s inspections and training that we can give to the customer on how to inspect their gear and how to log it in, whether it’s a simple talk during a safety day.”

Safety distributors can inspect job sites, review hazard plans and ensure customers know which standards they need to follow.

“Don’t be afraid to get us involved — big or small, for the opportunity or the application,” says West.

Meagan Gillmore is a freelance writer in Toronto.