Falls on construction sites are the leading cause of injuries and fatalities, a steady trend that isn’t likely to change as Canada’s construction sector grows to become the 5th largest in the world over the next decade.
In Ontario, an average Workers Safety Insurance Board claim for a workplace fall is $11,771. Factor in lost productivity and staff replacement, and the cost can quadruple to approximately $59,000 per injury.
There are two factors in the fall safety equation, fall prevention and fall protection.
- Fall prevention stops workers from falling
- Fall protection minimizes the impact of a fall
Provinces across the country are taking a hardline, tough love approach to construction safety and particularly fall prevention and protection.
Workers who don’t wear their personal protective equipment on site are subject to legal charges and steep fines even if no accident or injury occurs.
But does this approach really work? Time will tell but safety advisors say that changes in the industry required immediate action.
Dean Guthrie, a safety advisor specializing in fall prevention at the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association in Saskatoon visits construction sites regularly to instruct and motivate supervisors and workers to adhere to the provincial safety regulations. “You wouldn’t believe how many times I go onto a construction site and see a dozen or more workers not wearing any basic personal protective equipment at all,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
“Part of the reason is that the nature of the industry is changing and growing. We have more workers, younger workers and inexperienced workers in high risk jobs, working at heights with a general lack of awareness of the dangers,” he said.
The change in the industry has also created a change in the relationship between workers and employers over the past few years, according to McMaster University’s Wayne Lewchuk, a professor of School of Labour Studies & Department of Economics.
“Workers are in short supply and companies are relying increasingly on temporary work agencies and short-term contracts to seek out workers,” he said. “This short-term relationship is creating vulnerability among workers as they find themselves often feeling powerless to raise concerns about workplace health and safety issues.”
None of this changes the basics. Management is still required by law to have a safety plan in place to address construction site falls:
- Develop, implement and commit to a fall protection program
- Provide on the job training for your workers on fall prevention and protection
- Evaluate your program on a regular basis to insure its effectiveness and determine whether it needs to be changed or updated
But no amount of policy is worth anything unless it’s followed. The fact is, too many workers are hurt or killed in “avoidable” falls on construction sites because they don’t wear basic protective equipment, like fall arrest equipment.
We’re all in this together. What have you tried on your jobsite that has improved fall prevention or protection compliance?