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Falls are common causes of serious work related injuries and deaths. Fall protection planning can help to eliminate the hazards or control the risks associated with working near openings or at heights.
This document will focus on working at heights. For information about falls on the same level, please see the OSH Answers document on the prevention of slips, trips and falls.
Working at heights is any work where a person could fall a distance and be injured. This event might include, for example, falling from a step ladder, off of a roof, or through an unguarded hole in the ground or floor. Fall protection may also be required when working above an open top tank, bin, hopper, or vat.
Other situations that may require fall protection include the use of:
Occupational health and safety laws generally require action when a worker has the potential to fall about 3 metres (10 feet). Check with your jurisdiction as exact requirements do vary. Note that most jurisdictions require the use of specific fall protection measures before, or in addition to, personal protective equipment (PPE). These measures generally include the use of some of the following:
There may also be specific legal requirements around use of equipment like ladders and scaffolding.
Fall protection plans will outline the policy and procedures involved in assembling, maintaining, inspecting, using, and dismantling equipment such as ladders, scaffolds, or platforms used for working at heights as well as any fall protection equipment. Fall protection plans must be specific to each site where workers are at heights. There is "no one size fits all" program. Requirements and equipment used will change from workplace to workplace, site to site, and job to job.
Each workplace should seek the answers to the following questions:
Look for all areas or situations where there is a risk of falling before any work begins.
Develop the fall protection plan by involving those individuals with direct experience and whose work will be most impacted, and get input from supervisors and workers who's work involves fall hazards. Involve the joint health and safety committee or representative during the development. Be sure to include procedures to follow during emergencies and fall rescues.
Fall arrest planning will include the steps necessary to prevent the worker from hitting the ground, material, equipment, or lower level of a structure. Workers may swing from side to side when they fall (called the pendulum effect) which also must be taken into consideration. A worker who has fallen, and who's fall has been arrested, will most likely need to be rescued by others.
A site-specific fall protection plan will incorporate many items, including:
An employer must:
A supervisor must:
A worker must:
Ontario and Newfoundland both have mandatory training and instruction requirements for those working at heights. Please see the Fall Protection - Legislation for Training Requirements for more details.
Even if training is not specifically required for those working at heights, it is still a very important part of fall protection. Selecting the proper personal protective equipment is complex and understanding how to wear and use it is not always intuitive. Workers and employers must understand how and when their equipment should be maintained, and how to identify damage or incorrectly assembled systems. Users must also have a clear understanding of how to work safely on equipment such as elevated platforms, lifts and scaffolds.
Often after a fall is arrested, the worker remains suspended in the air and will need to be rescued by others. In other situations, the worker could have injuries that require first-aid. A rescue plan will detail how to return fallen workers to a place of safety while keeping rescuers safe.
Like other forms of emergency planning, it is essential that everyone understands their role and what they must do after a fall. Before beginning the work, discuss the situation with local emergency services to see if they are able to assist when there is a need to rescue a fallen worker. Leaving a worker suspended for a long period of time can be dangerous to their health and safety.
Designated rescuers must be adequately trained and have easy access to all the equipment they need to effectively rescue others safely and as quickly as possible.
A rescue plan should: