Minimize the Risk When Working at Heights

Thank you for joining us for this episode of Health and Safety To Go. Today we’re sharing some safety tips on how to work safely when working at heights.      

A painter slips from a 6ft. scaffold, hitting a cement floor and is critically injured. A roofer falls backwards from a second story roof onto the parking lot and is killed. Falls from heights such as these are responsible for serious, long-term injuries and are a leading cause of death on construction sites. Workers in a number of industries and trades are exposed to the dangers of working at heights.

For construction workers, roofers, window cleaners, painters, arborists and firefighters, working at heights is a part of their daily work experience. Avoiding the risk of falling from ladders, scaffolds, lifts, buckets, mast climbers, roofs, balconies and trees requires safety diligence by both worker and employer.

Falls from height can occur as a result of a complex chain of events or during the simple acts of walking or climbing a step ladder. It doesn't take more than a few feet of height to create the conditions for a critical accident.

OSHA (the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration) identifies falls as the leading cause of death in construction. In the US, there were 294 fall fatalities out of a total of 796 fatalities in construction in 2013. By comparison, there were 221 construction fatalities in Canada in 2013 and the number of fall fatalities is not available.

Some of the reasons why workers fall include:

·         Protective devices like guardrails are missing

·         Fall protection equipment is not available, not used or misused

·         Equipment like ladders and scaffolds are in poor condition or not used properly

·         Lack of training for workers

Fall protection must be used when working at heights. This protection can include the use of guardrails to prevent workers from falling, or fall restraint systems that prevent workers from travelling to the edge of a building or structure if the use of guardrails is not possible. Fall arrest systems must be used whenever a fall restraint system isn't practicable. Fall arrest systems stop workers in mid-fall, preventing them from hitting the surface below. Examples include safety nets and full body harnesses attached by lifelines to secure anchors. Control zones can be used in certain cases. Control zones involve setting raised warning lines at a safe distance - 2 metres - from unguarded edges.

Workers need training to understand the proper set-up and safe use of the specific equipment they will be using. This training includes hazard recognition and in care and safe use of ladders, scaffolds, fall protection systems, and other equipment they'll be using on the job.

Workers who are two meters or more above the level below are at risk for serious injury or death if they should fall. To protect these workers, employers must provide fall protection and the right equipment for the job, including the appropriate kinds of ladders, scaffolds, and safety gear.

For roof work, there are many ways to prevent falls. If personal fall arrest systems are used, provide a harness for each worker who needs to tie off to the anchor. Make sure the personal fall arrest system fits, and regularly inspect all fall protection equipment to ensure it's in good condition and safe to use. If you are at risk of falling from a significant height or if a fall from a lesser height could put you at unusual risk of injury, wear the appropriate fall protection equipment. Check the legislation in your jurisdiction to ensure you are in compliance as the regulated minimum heights and requirements for fall protection vary.

When work is done from heights, such as ladders, scaffolds, and roofs, employers must plan projects to ensure that the job is done safely. The plan should start with deciding how the job will be done, what tasks will be involved, and what safety equipment will be needed to complete each task.

Employers should plan to have all the necessary equipment and tools available at the work site. For example, in a roofing job, where fall hazards could include holes and leading edges, plan and select fall protection suitable to that work, such as PFAS. In some cases a written plan is required. Requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Ensure everyone is properly trained. Before a worker is allowed into an area where a risk of falling exists, employers must ensure workers are trained to know which fall protection equipment must be used and in the safe use of that equipment. Some jurisdictions in Canada have specific training requirements.

Safely working at heights is the responsibility of employers and workers. Proper training and fall protection can help minimize the risk and prevent falls.

For more information about protecting yourself when working at heights, visit, thanks for listening everyone.