3 Things to Implement When Working at Heights

In Canada, falls from heights continue to be a leading cause of fatality in the construction industry. Here is a brief glimpse of factors that contribute to such accidents:

“Build us what we need. Complete the project on time or ahead of time. There is zero opportunity for waste or delays. There is a limited amount of money and resources, so everything must be done according to plan and within budget. The work has to be high quality, and everything has to look great. And of course, do it safely. Don’t kill or harm anyone, because that simply wouldn’t be good for business.”

Construction project goals of achieving a high level of safety can be realized when working at heights is involved. The London Summer Olympic Games project was a great example of this. Over the four-year course of the project, 0 fatalities were recorded. Compare this to the Beijing Olympic project, which recorded 10 fatalities, and to the Greece Olympic project, which recorded 14. (Source: A Lesson from the London Olympics) The message is clear: safety is possible!

Here are three things to consider when working at heights:

1. Establish training and competency

Ensure that your workers and supervisors are trained properly. You get what you pay for, and the lowest training cost is not always the best way to go. It can sometimes be challenging to explain that to employers. In my career, I have seen a lot of training providers deliver poorly designed programs that only provide the basics. Sometimes, that same substandard training is delivered by even poorer instructors.

Workplace NL in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Ministry of Labour in Ontario, have set stringent standards for approving Working at Heights training providers. Research your provider and check references to ensure that you are getting the training quality you’re paying for, especially now that the April 1, 2018 Working at Heights: Construction Refresher deadline is fast approaching.

2. Create a plan

As Dr. Stephen Covey wrote, “Begin with the end in mind.” It’s difficult to achieve a high level of safety without a plan. Some provinces have specific requirements for creating a fall protection plan or safe work procedures when working at heights. Be sure that you know what is required in your jurisdiction.

Prior to working at heights, a plan must be created to ensure that hazards have been clearly identified, and the correct fall protection system is selected and in use. Focus on whether work at heights is necessary. If so, based on the task, follow the proper hierarchy of controls. For example, if the need for working at heights cannot be eliminated, is a guardrail feasible? If a guardrail isn’t practicable, is it possible to use a travel restraint? Fall arrest should always be a final option. If fall arrest is used, a proper plan must also identify suitable anchor points and fall distance calculations. Pre-planning will ensure that workers have the correct equipment for the job.

3. Implement and monitor the plan 

So many fall fatalities involve workers who were wearing a harness, but failed to tie-off while performing the work, or didn’t tie-off to begin with. Why don a harness and not tie-off?

If we focus on plan creation, and implement the plan correctly using a competent plan overseer, falls should not happen. Unfortunately, failure to monitor the plan, and plan oversights, continue to represent a gap for many organizations. As well, the term “competent” and “supervisor” are not always used synonymously.

Planning sometimes represents an area in safety where oversights get made. Time must be dedicated to proper planning and training. Workers that are not following the plan and wearing and using personal protective devices as outlined must be dealt with accordingly so that the behaviour is curbed, and the safe work plan can be followed to ensure the desired result.

Trained workers that know what to do, when and how to do it, and understand safety expectations, will work safely. When plans are created, make sure they are implemented and monitored. This helps to ensure that workers return home unharmed.

If you have questions about working at heights, OSG can help. We have been successfully training and consulting companies for over 20 years, and we are the largest private provider of health and safety training and consulting in Ontario. Call 1.800.815.9980 to speak to one of our health and safety experts, or feel free to send us a contact form.

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