Working at height includes work from an elevated position where there is a risk of falling and becoming injured. In Ontario, working from heights includes any work over 3 metres (10 feet), but if there are additional risks below, such as water, fall protection may be required at lower heights.
Sadly, the number of workplace injuries and fatalities to employees working at heights continue to be significant, so it's important to take all safety precautions possible. Whether workers are at heights regularly or occasionally, they need to be working safely at all times.
Below are some occupational safety tips for working at heights, to help both employers and employees
Pick the right equipment and protection for your workers. Where possible, choose passive protection like toe boards, handrails, and barriers that prevent a fall without the worker having to do anything, as this will always be the safest option, and will be the easiest fall protection system.
Otherwise, as the next best option, choose equipment that will prevent a fall, such as a travel restraint, over fall arrest devices that minimize injury if a fall occurs.
Regularly review your fall protection training and solutions to make sure they are still the best option.
Not only do workers need to use the proper PPE, but they need to know how it works, how to care for it, and how to check it for issues. If safety equipment is damaged or worn, it can't do its job.
Moreover, there needs to be systems in place to make sure all employees working at height check their equipment every time before use. Otherwise, it can be easy to forget, and equipment may not be able to protect a worker when it counts.
If an anchor point isn't strong enough to handle the stresses of a fall, it can't help. Make sure workers only use an engineered anchor point designed for the job.
Legislation requires that a permanent anchor system that has been installed according to the Building Code should be used. Engineer certified anchor points should be used.
If you don't know the potential fall distance, you might not be using fall protection when you need it. Make it a habit and part of procedures to always factor in calculating height distances, and then implement appropriate hazard control.
It's also important to correctly calculate distances, to make sure there is enough room for fall clearance, taking into consideration the length of the lanyard with the deceleration device. The actual fall distance needs to include the length of the lanyard, deceleration length, and the worker's body length below, allowing also for sag in the harness and anchor system.
Even in an elevated work platform or man lift, workers should still be in a harness attached to a secure anchor point.
Injuries from falling tools are significant, too. Always ensure tools are properly tied off, and have a system in place so this happens every time. Where possible, toe boards and other controls should be used.
Working at height safety measures depend on fully identifying all fall risks. Make sure to review all tasks to ensure they have been assessed. Common at-height work includes working on roofs, ladders, and scaffolding, or near to holes, excavations, and trenches. It also includes working over dangerous equipment or hazardous environments.
While many employers associate working from heights with the construction industry, many other industries have this risk, too. To ensure your employees can work safely, be sure to identify any potential fall from height risks, including the use of ladders.
Be sure to consider changing conditions or other factors that affect the safety of the work, including surfaces that can become slippery in the rain, and unstable or fragile surfaces. Even situations where workers may have to over-reach to complete a task should be assessed.
Many employers don't realize that you can't simply rely on local emergency services to help if you have an incident, and a worker is hanging after a fall with an arrest system. While the fall arrest system is designed to save a worker during the fall, it isn't designed for workers to be left in them. Suspension injuries and trauma can occur in as little as ten minutes, and death can occur between 15 to 40 minutes. After a fall is not the time to figure out how to retrieve a suspended worker; you need to have a plan in place to retrieve a worker as soon as possible.
Perhaps the most important tip is to ensure your workers are adequately trained. You can have the right equipment and procedures, but if workers don't know how to use equipment, and don't know what can go wrong if procedures aren't followed, incidents will happen.
Proper training ensures workers understand the risks, and how to minimize them, as well as feel confident in knowing how and when to use proper equipment.
Workers who need fall protection devices must take a working at heights training program that is approved by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development's Chief Prevention Officer.
TEAM-1 Academy provides compliant, comprehensive fall protection training, to ensure workers have the proper knowledge to work safely.