Slip, trips and falls on level surfaces and falls from heights, particularly in construction, remain the number one cause of critical injuries and fatalities, when the rates of other types of workplace injuries are decreasing more quickly.
In 2011, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board approved 11,733 compensation claims for lost-time injuries due to incidents in which workers fell while at work. Same level falls resulting from slips and trips account for 65% of all fall-related injuries. Falls from heights account for 34% of fall-related injuries – and many of the work-related deaths that occur in Ontario.
“These workers deserve to be protected from these potential hazards in the workplace,” says Robert W. Landry, provincial Construction Health and Safety specialist with the Occupational Health and Safety Branch of Ontario’s Ministry of Labour.
During February and March, Ontario’s Safe at Work program is stepping up its workplace safety, prevention and enforcement strategy with Inspection Blitzes focusing on the hazards and risks involving slips, trips and falls, and ladder use in the construction and industrial sectors.
“This inspection campaign is to reduce overall lost-time workplace injuries and accidents. It’s an enforcement strategy, a prevention strategy. These fall rates seem to be constant and we’re struggling with that,” Landry says.
Ministry inspectors will randomly visit construction projects that are doing high-risk work and with histories of non-compliance to check that employers, supervisors and workers are complying with Ontario Health and Safety Act requirements and regulations.
Workers can be at risk of falling due to:
- Poor lighting, slippery surfaces, inadequate “housekeeping” (a messy, cluttered work area) and other such deficient working conditions
- Missing protective devices (e.g., guardrails)
- Unguarded openings in floors, work surfaces or walls of buildings or other structures
- Misused equipment or equipment in poor condition (e.g., ladders, scaffolds, and suspended access equipment)
- Lack of appropriate personal protective equipment (equipment not available, not used, or misused)
- Poor work practices (e.g., unclear job procedures, lack of training, or workers rushing to meet deadlines)
Inspectors will be looking for “any evidence of lack of traction” between footwear and surfaces – wet floors, puddles, and oily or icy surfaces. Construction workers must wear suitable CSA-approved footwear – boots, not shoes, which should be “slip-resistant, not worn, not defective, and properly fitting,” Landry says. “Laces should be tied securely, because if they’re not tied, footwear could fall off, or workers could trip. Most important, these boots must be worn at all times on a construction project.”
These inspections, which can take up to two days, go into considerable depth, Landry says. “We know the non-compliant sites and workplaces and our inspectors will want specifics.”
On site, ministry inspectors ask to meet with Project Supervisors, Health and Safety Supervisors, and health and safety worker representatives. They will check minutes of health and safety meetings; ask about fall accidents and how they were addressed.
Inspectors will also be checking to make sure employers are providing safe and appropriate equipment for their workers, as well as safety training, supervision and instruction materials to protect their workers’ health and safety on the job.
In order to check a worker’s safety competency, inspectors may ask them to demonstrate their knowledge on:
- How to recognize, assess, and control fall hazards
- The application of the right controls, including effective fall prevention and fall protection methods (Employers must also provide hands-on training that is equipment- and application-specific.)
- Proficiency in the safe and proper use of personal fall prevention and fall protection systems and their components – travel restraint, fall restricting, fall arrest systems or safety nets. Workers must be competent and have the skills and expertise to select, inspect, set-up, and use appropriate fall prevention and fall protection systems
- How to work at heights safely and in compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulatory requirements
- Access equipment: safe use of ladders, scaffolds, elevating work platforms, and suspended access equipment.
Ladder safety, in particular, poses significant fall hazards in construction, Landry says.
“There have been a high number of incidents, where workers were critically injured or killed in falls from ladders,” Landry says.
In the five-year period from 2006 to May 2010, there were 396 fall incidents causing critical injuries and 127 of those were from ladders – 32 per cent of these accidents were caused by the unsafe use of ladders.
During that same period of time, there were 83 fatalities and 10 were from the unsafe use of ladders.
“We’ve worked with industry representatives and our partners at the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association to develop a Ladder Use in Construction Guideline,” Landry says. “This guideline was prepared to assist workplace parties in understanding their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Construction Regulation. The Ministry of Labour views the guideline as a set of industry practices that when implemented as part of a constructor/employer’s health and safety program will help in reducing workplace accidents involving ladders.”
In cases of non-compliance, Ministry of Labour Inspectors will be issuing tickets on the spot during this enforcement campaign. These tickets, for a variety of offences, range from $195 for failing to wear protective footwear to $295 failing to wear a full body harness connected to fall arrest system while on suspended equipment.
“During this blitz, we want the message to be to get your safety plans in order, get your managers and supervisors on site up to speed,” Landry says. “Because falls are one of the leading causes of death and injury, our inspectors are always enforcing fall protection. Sometimes people cut corners for production, but you don’t cut corners when it comes to safety.”