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An apprentice carpenter was severely injured when he fell through a stairwell opening and landed on the concrete floor 37 feet below. In another incident, a roofer unhooked his lanyard from the lifeline and then slipped on frost, falling to his death, 53 feet below.
Every year workers die or are injured as a result of falling from ladders, scaffolds, roofs or other elevations. Falling is a risk faced by construction workers, painters, solar panel installers, window washers, firefighters, live performance workers, and others who work at heights. Ideally it would be safest to eliminate the risk all together by eliminating the need to work at heights, however in many occupations such as construction and other trades, this is not practical, and working at heights is a part of the job.
There are however, steps that employers and workers can take to minimize the risk, and help prevent falls and the injuries that go along with them.
Any work at heights should be properly planned, supervised, and not carried out in dangerous weather conditions. Conduct a risk assessment to identify and address any hazards related to the work to be performed. This information can help you select the right equipment for the job, and take adequate control measures and precautions to ensure the safety of workers and others.
Fall Protection Plan
Laws vary by jurisdiction, however most require employers to develop a written, site-specific fall protection plan when employees are working over a certain vertical height (anywhere from 3-7.5 metres (10-25 feet)) and are not protected by permanent guardrails,. Be sure to check the applicable legislation for your jurisdiction. The plan should include the fall hazards and fall protection systems that are in place in each area, and the procedures for using, maintaining, fitting and inspecting fall protection equipment. The plan should also include procedures for rescuing a worker who has fallen, and is suspended by a personal fall protection system or safety net.
Training and Supervision
People working at heights must be trained in practical fall prevention and fall arrest techniques. Whenever personal protective equipment is used, the employer must ensure that workers know how to properly select, fit, use, inspect, and maintain the gear they will be using. The employer is responsible for providing appropriate training, and safety equipment that complies with safety standards, and ensuring that workers use the fall protection system provided at all times.
If you are at risk for falling three meters (ten feet) or more, you should use the appropriate fall protection system when working. There are various fall protection methods and devices to protect workers who are at risk of falling. Each has their appropriate uses; depending on the situation, use one or more of these fall protection methods:
Guardrails should be installed at the edges of construction sites, roofs, and scaffoldings whenever possible to prevent falls. Standards for guardrails dimensions may vary from province to province.
Fall restraint systems such as work positioning devices that prevent workers from travelling to the edge of the building or structure must be provided if the use of guardrails isn't practicable.
Fall arrest systems (full body harnesses and safety nets) are used to stop workers in mid-fall to prevent them from hitting the surface below. Full body safety harnesses attached to secured lanyards are widely used, however to be effective, they must be fitted properly to each worker. Although a poorly fitting harness will stop a fall, it can injure the worker who is dangling in mid-air if the straps and metal supports are not contoured to the individual's shape.
The lanyard, or line that stops the fall, and the anchor point for the lanyard are just as important as the harness. Anchor points must be carefully planned, usually in consultation with an engineer, and the length of the lanyard must allow for the stretch in the material resulting from the fall. Manufacturers can provide information to help you choose the correct length and avoid contact with the ground or other objects.
Safety netting can be used effectively in construction of industrial framed buildings. Trained personnel are required to install, dismantle and inspect the netting, and no worker should work above nets without proper training.
When fall arrest systems are used, the possibility of suspension trauma is a serious concern. This condition, which can be fatal, occurs when a person is suspended motionless in a vertical position in the harness while awaiting rescue.
When a person is suspended vertically and perhaps in shock, blood tends to pool around the legs, putting extra pressure on the heart while it attempts to pump blood to the brain. The situation can be made worse by the constrictions of the harness. Suspended workers with head injuries or who are unconscious are particularly at risk. The person must be rescued quickly (under ten minutes) and gradually brought to a horizontal position to avoid potential cardiac arrest. This is why it is critical to have a rescue plan with procedures for rescuing a worker who is suspended by a personal fall protection system.
Preventing the fall, or rescuing the fallen, the best way to protect workers from injury is to create a culture of safety that values the input of both employers and workers.
Tips & Tools
With oversized, deep tread, low-pressure tires, relatively light weight, and easy maneuverability, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) can go where other heavier, larger vehicles cannot. This has made them popular not only for enjoyment as recreation vehicles, but also as useful modes of transportation in certain work settings. ATVs are commonly used by workers in construction, emergency medical response, search and rescue, land management and surveying, pipeline maintenance, farming, forestry, and wild land fire control, among others.
An ATV is any motorized off-highway vehicle designed for all terrain use which can be operated in harsh environments. They have four low-pressure tires, a seat designed to be straddled by the operator, and handlebars for steering control. They come in a variety of models with different engine sizes for different purposes, such as general trail use or more work-related activities such as hauling timber. They have high centre of gravity and a relatively narrow wheelbase which can present hazards to the operators, such as rollovers.
There are precautions employers and employees can take to prevent injury and use ATVs safely in the workplace.
This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts offer tips on how to deal with domestic violence as a workplace issue, and feature an encore presentation of safety tips for landscapers.
Feature Podcast: Domestic Violence- A Workplace Issue
Domestic violence (also called battering or intimate partner violence) is a pattern of abusive behaviour used by a person to gain power or control over his or her partner in an intimate relationship. So why is domestic violence a workplace issue? When a victim leaves the abusive relationship, the abuser knows that the one place the victim can be found is at work. This podcast lists signs that may indicate a worker is being subjected to domestic violence, and offers tips for employers and colleagues on how to deal with this issue in the workplace.
The podcast runs 6:22 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Safety Tips for Landscapers
CCOHS outlines some of the hazards workers face when landscaping, and offers general safety precautions to take to work safely.
The podcast runs 2:34 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
See the complete list of podcast topics. Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.
Workplace violence is a serious issue that affects all business sectors and occupations, and the safety and security of every employee and employer. It claims a high personal cost from the emotional trauma and physical injury experienced by the victims, their families, and co-workers. It also brings a high cost to employers in terms of increased absenteeism, lost productivity, high employee turnover, and increased insurance/ compensation costs.
To help those in federally-regulated business and organizations understand workplace violence and develop and implement prevention programs, CCOHS has developed two e-learning courses: Workplace Violence in the Canadian Federal Jurisdiction: Establish a Prevention Program, and Workplace Violence in the Canadian Federal Jurisdiction: Recognize the Risk and Take Action. The courses will be available in June 2013.
Wherever people interact at work there is a potential for violence, regardless of the job. Frontline supervisors, workers and anyone else in the Canadian federal jurisdiction with an interest in workplace safety will develop an understanding of workplace violence, the consequences of workplace violence and preventive measures that can be taken.
Workplace Violence in the Canadian Federal Jurisdiction: Establish a Prevention Program introduces managers, supervisors, and employees in the Canadian federal jurisdiction to the key components of an effective workplace violence prevention program. Learners will gain the necessary knowledge and tools to take action to eliminate or minimize the potential for workplace violence, and to establish a program in compliance with the Canada Labour Code, Part II requirements.
The related course Workplace Violence in the Canadian Federal Jurisdiction: Recognize the Risk and Take Action helps frontline supervisors and workers in federally-regulated businesses and organizations develop a clear understanding of what workplace violence is, what preventive measures can be taken and the importance of reporting incidents. This course contains many examples relevant to work done in federally-regulated workplaces, plus information on the requirements for the prevention of violence under the Canada Labour Code, Part II.
As an employee of a federally regulated organization, it can be a challenge to find credible, bilingual training customized to Canada's Federal jurisdiction. CCOHS has a large collection of e-learning courses that are developed and reviewed by CCOHS health and safety specialists, and by representatives of government, employers, and labour unions.
Learn more about the courses
Workplace Violence in the Canadian Federal Jurisdiction: Establish a Prevention Program
Workplace Violence in the Canadian Federal Jurisdiction: Recognize the Risk and Take Action
More about workplace violence from CCOHS
Violence in the Workplace: Awareness free e-course
Workplace Violence key topic page
Violence in the Workplace Prevention Guide
See Signs of Violence at Your Workplace? poster
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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